Emerson's legacy

In June when the 8th Congressional District selects a new member of Congress, one name long associated with the area will be missing from the ballot: Emerson.

Former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson announced in December she would leave Congress in the new year to serve as president and CEO of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The not-for-profit organization represents more than 900 rural electric cooperatives across the country.

Southeast Missourian reporter Erin Ragan sat down with the former representative last month to talk about her years in Congress. This two-part series ran on March 24 and 25 in the Southeast Missourian. You can read the stories and watch video of the interview at semissourian.com.

Emerson's decision to step down, which was made effective Jan. 22, ended 30-plus years of either her or her late husband Bill Emerson serving in the House of Representatives.

Jo Ann Emerson served in Congress for 16 years. During this time she gained tremendous respect from voters -- Republicans and Democrats -- and regularly won the seat by landslide margins.

If there's one overriding theme to Emerson's tenure, it's her impressive constituent service, carried out in large part by a helpful staff. Many people regularly reached out to her office asking for help in navigating the complexities, and unfortunately, burdensome bureaucracies of the federal government.

Agriculture being a key component to the 8th District economy, Emerson made strong efforts to help farmers in the district. Each August while Congress was on recess, Emerson held a farm tour during which she heard firsthand from those in the industry. This effort to educate herself on the issues facing farmers and hear their concerns was important.

While we did not necessarily agree with all her positions, you always knew Emerson cared about people. "People before politics" was more than a campaign slogan. It was a philosophy she tried to live by. With that said, if there's one blemish on her record it's that she left office just months after being re-elected to a 10th term in the House. Some have expressed disappointment in this decision. We understand and agree. We also understand why she would want to leave, considering the impact she can now make in her new position.

Four candidates will vie for the district seat in a June 4 special election. They include Republican Jason Smith, Democrat Steve Hodges, Libertarian Bill Slantz and Constitution Party candidate Doug Enyart.

We wish Emerson well in her new role and offer our thanks for her service to the district.