U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, considers all three -- in that order -- when deciding how to vote on a bill in Congress, she said.
Critics, most notably former opponents in races for the 8th District, say the congresswoman's voting record shows she is "not conservative enough." Emerson has been called "rank and file" when it comes to bill sponsorship, and many times 'moderate' among House members from both parties.
She's been a strong advocate for a farm bill, on which she disagrees with many other conservatives, she said.
Emerson voted to raise the debt ceiling in 2011 and, at times, has been at odds with veterans groups and opponents of funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Supporters, when explaining the reason they would like to see her keep her seat leading up to elections, of which she's now won 10, often they like that Emerson is a moderate. For her part, Emerson said her voting record can't be labeled one way or the other.
"It really depends on the issues. For example, on environmental issues, things that impact the economy in our district and the well-being of our constituents, I would say that I probably have one of the most conservative records in the Congress," she said. She sees herself as conservative on social issues, too, despite the 2011 vote, on federal spending. When she voted against a spending measure this past fall, known as a continuing resolution, it was because she didn't agree with the stance of her "more conservative" colleagues. They decided they would vote to increase spending based on the chance the presidency and Senate majority would go to Republicans in the election, she said.
"I thought that was irresponsible," Emerson said. "So I voted for what I considered to be much more conservative -- upholding the cuts that we made in a very responsible way."
Agree with her or not, Emerson won't be voting much longer. Earlier this month she announced she will resign from Congress to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperation, a not-for-profit organization that represents the interests of rural electric cooperatives and public power districts.
Emerson may leave Congress around the end of January, she has said. A special election to replace her will be held after committees of Republicans, Democrats and other eligible parties nominate candidates and a date for the election is set by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Across the district, those who tend to lean especially hard to the right are hoping for a candidate more conservative than Emerson. Members of local tea party groups especially see an opportunity with Emerson's departure.
Cape Girardeau County Tea Party chairman Brian Bollmann said his group does not agree with many of Emerson's votes; most critical to them was the vote that raised the debt ceiling along with a vote for Cash for Clunkers, an automobile incentive program. He voiced dissatisfaction about how Emerson's resignation will cost taxpayer money to cover a special election.
Tea partyers hope a candidate will emerge to meet their needs.
"The main criteria that stands out for me is obviously whether or not they have voted conservatively, Bollmann said, "but are they willing to stand up against the Republican establishment and vote against them or work against what they want."
Eddy Justice, chairman of the Republicans' 8th Congressional District Committee, said with the committee being made up of members from across a large area, it has a personality that "is hard to put a finger on it, whether saying its pro-establishment, or anti-establishment, or libertarian leaning, or traditional-Republican leaning.
"They have all expressed opinions about what they think is important," Justice said of the 80-plus members of the committee. "And it's been pretty much the entire spectrum. I've heard people say it's experience, I've heard them say political stance, or electability, and I've heard people say capability to do it for the long term. So, it's been across the board."
Seventeen Republicans have expressed interest in the committee's nomination, with the most recent being Missouri Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith, a former chief of staff for Emerson, and Wendell Bailey, a former Congressman.
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