Emerson good advocate for region, area leaders say

Thursday, December 6, 2012
Jo Ann Emerson

As a name synonymous with Southeast Missouri politics prepares to leave office, those who worked closely with U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson are left to wonder about the future representation of a district many say has been served well for more than 16 years.

Ask a local business leader, an overseer of the region's agriculture industry or the director of an agency that provides food to thousands each year. Their responses are similar.

"I can only hope her replacement is as good to us as she has been," said Mike Geske of Matthews, Mo., a board member of the National Corn Growers Association.

Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, re-elected in November to a 10th term in Congress representing Missouri's 8th District, announced her intention to leave office Monday. In February, she will begin a job as president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a not-for-profit organization based in Arlington, Va., that represents the interests of rural electric cooperatives and public power districts. The association has been Emerson's top campaign donor throughout the years, giving about $80,000 to her campaigns.

Her departure came as a surprise to many, but possibly most surprised were those who have become comfortable working with her on socioeconomic issues that continue to affect the area and the major industries that call it home.

It was difficult Tuesday for Geske to single out an item affecting his organization that Emerson hasn't had a major hand in during the past 12 years, when he visited her annually in Washington, D.C., to discuss agriculture issues.

"We've done a lot of business," he said. "And she has always helped us in everything we've asked her to help with."

And he doesn't blame the congresswoman for the most recent hit to his industry.

A farm bill that would have continued programs through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture was pushed hard by Emerson and members of Missouri's congressional delegation this year, but no action was taken in the House of Representatives.

"She was stymied this year," Geske said. "I know she was very frustrated with the Republican leadership."

Her decision to leave Congress has drawn questions about timing -- the moderate Emerson has repeatedly expressed a distaste for the inability of political parties to work together to pass legislation, but on Monday she said in a conference call that her disgust with gridlock wasn't related to her career move.

She described her new position as "an extension of what I have been doing," and referred to the consumers and members of the cooperatives as constituents.

Emerson's aptitude in dealing with local business was recognized by John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It's like anything else," he said. "You don't always agree 100 percent of the time, but she's very effectively helped us maneuver through a lot of issues as long as she's been around," he said.

SEMO Food Bank director Karen Green said she is connected to the Emerson name every day in the work she does. Bill Emerson, the representative's late husband who preceded her in office, is credited with what Green called "one of the most important pieces of legislation ever written" -- the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. The act encourages the donation of food and grocery products to organizations for distribution to the needy. She said, Jo Ann Emerson has been a steadfast supporter of the cause by quickly acting to respond to natural disasters in the region, and keeping in mind an understanding of what government programs were providing the most help to hungry people in the district.

Emerson's announcement Monday drew much response from fellow politicians -- U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, along with several state lawmakers, issued statements praising Emerson's work in Congress. Emerson ticked off a short list of highlights from her nine terms during Monday's conference call. She included "promotion of civility in Congress and trying to find common-sense solutions to challenging issues," working as a member of organizations to build the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau, fighting pharmaceutical company interests to keep the cost of prescription drugs low, building an extended U.S. 60, dealing with natural disasters that have plagued the region in recent years and pushing for completion of the Birds Point Levee.

Emerson said the many issues still left for Congress to deal with in a short amount of time are the reason she will not leave before her newest term begins.

To replace Emerson, committee members from both political parties will nominate candidates to run in a special election next year. Gov. Jay Nixon will set the election date.



Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: