WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), freshly reelected to her ninth term in Congress, announced Monday that she would resign in February and become the president and chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn., the top donor to her campaigns during her congressional career.
Emerson, who was elected to her late husband Bill Emerson’s seat in a 1996 special election and was the first woman to represent Missouri in the House, handily won reelection earlier this year over Democratic rival Jack Rushin with nearly 72% of the vote. One of the few women to hold Republican leadership positions in Congress, Emerson was chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee and sat on the House Appropriations Committee.
The electric cooperative, a prominent spender in congressional races nationwide with more than $1.8 million donated during the latest election cycle, and a sizable amount spent on lobbying efforts, voted Monday to appoint Emerson. Over the course of her congressional career, the cooperative donated a total of nearly $80,000 to Emerson’s campaign efforts, making it her top donor.
In paperwork filed Monday, Emerson’s office said that negotiations for her new job began Nov. 19, after the election. House ethics guidelines on what sorts of negotiations for post-congressional employment are permitted are nebulous.
“I am not leaving Congress because I have lost my heart for service – to the contrary – I see a new way to serve,” Emerson said in a statement. “I did not go seeking this opportunity, but I am excited about the new challenge it offers to find ways to promote strong rural policy.”
“Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson has been a great leader and tireless public servant for the people of the 8th District,” Missouri Republican Party Chairman David Cole said in a statement. “She is a beloved member of the community, and we know that, in or out of government, she will continue her service to the people of Southeast Missouri.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cast Emerson’s departure in a different light, calling it “a sign that no moderates are welcome in the Tea Party House Republican caucus.”
“Congresswoman Emerson saw the writing on the wall from this election – it’s better to ditch the Tea Party Republican Congress than to stand behind it,” Jesse Ferguson, committee spokesman, said, referring to the Emerson's reputation as a moderate.
Republicans have recently come under fire for initially including no women in their 19 committee chairmanships for the 113th Congress, before appointing Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.) as the chairwoman of the House Administration Committee on Friday. And despite the appointment of Rep. Cathy McMorriss Rodgers (R-Wash.) as conference chairwoman, there are still just four women among the 36 newly elected Republican freshmen.
The process for replacing Emerson will begin in February, with Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon setting the date for an election at least 10 weeks in the future. The 8th Congressional District GOP and Democratic Committees will then meet to select their candidates to run in the special election.