Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R)
Elected: Nov. 1996, 7th full term.
Born: Sept. 16, 1950, Washington, D.C. .
Home: Cape Girardeau.
Education: Ohio Wesleyan U., B.A. 1972.
Family: Married (Ron Gladney); 8 children.
Professional Career: Deputy communications dir., Natl. Repub. Cong. Cmte., 1984–91; Dir., State Relations & Grassroot Programs, Natl. Restaurant Assn., 1991–94; Sr. V.P., Pub. Affairs, American Insurance Assn., 1994–96.
The congresswoman from the 8th District is Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican first elected in 1996 to replace her husband, Bill Emerson, who had died in office that June. Jo Ann Emerson grew up in Bethesda, Md., in a Republican family. Her father was executive director of the Republican National Committee, but her neighborhood was bipartisan. Next door lived Democrats Hale and Lindy Boggs, who served in Congress nearly 50 years. In 1975, she married Republican Bill Emerson, then a Washington lobbyist. In 1979, spotting the vulnerability of the Democratic incumbent in the Bootheel district, he went home to Missouri to run, and won with 55% of the vote. In 1995, he was diagnosed with cancer. After Bill’s death, Jo Ann decided to put her considerable political résumé to work by running for his seat. She had worked for the American Insurance Association and the National Restaurant Association, and as a press aide for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Leading state and national Republicans quickly endorsed her. Missouri law bars reopening the filing deadline if an incumbent dies less than 11 weeks before the primary, so she ran as an independent. Democratic contender Emily Firebaugh, a timber company owner, attacked Emerson as a product of Washington, and spent $831,000, slightly more than Emerson. The Republican nominee, Richard Kline, was less trouble. In 1995, he had used pepper spray to try to place a Veterans Affairs Department doctor under citizen’s arrest; his campaign never really got off the ground. Bill Emerson’s record, Jo Ann Emerson’s conservative views, and the poignancy of her situation all worked toward her victory. She won 50%; Firebaugh got 37%; and Kline, 11%.
|Jo Ann Emerson (R)||198,798||(71%)||($1,285,597)|
|Joe Allen (D)||72,790||(26%)||($62,069)|
|Jo Ann Emerson (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (72%), 2004 (72%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (63%), 1996 (50%), 1996 (63%)
In the House, Emerson has had a moderate-leaning voting record with sometimes conservative positions on cultural issues. On the Appropriations Committee and its Agriculture Subcommittee, her priority was rescuing falling farm commodity prices. She wrote the Trade Sanctions Reform Act of 2000, which partially lifted embargoes on five nations. And she worked with other members from farm districts to open agricultural trade with Cuba. She championed protection of U.S. food aid programs from international trade restrictions and crusaded for hunger relief, an issue that Bill Emerson popularized. She and Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts lived for one week on a $21 food budget to dramatize the plight of some food stamp recipients and to gain additional funding for nutrition programs. Her bill to remove liability for federal agencies that donate excess food to shelters was enacted in 2008. By 2009, Emerson had accrued enough seniority to ascend to the ranking Republican slot on the Financial Services Subcommittee.
Emerson earned a footnote in history by casting the deciding vote in 2003 on the House version of the Republican bill creating a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare program. She initially opposed the bill, but changed her vote in exchange for a promise from Speaker Dennis Hastert for a subsequent floor vote on her priority bill, which would have allowed consumers to import American drugs from other countries where prices are lower. She got the vote as promised, but the second-ranking GOP leader, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, worked aggressively against it. Emerson won the floor vote, but the bill ultimately failed to pass Congress. Emerson took her revenge a few months later by voting against the final version of the prescription drug bill.
After Democrats took control of the House in 2007, Emerson voted for five of the six bills in the new majority’s first “100-hour” agenda, including one she co-sponsored, to permit the government to negotiate prices with drug companies. She also voted for a Democratic bill to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program. On the major foreign-policy issue of the 110th Congress (2007-08), Emerson reluctantly supported President Bush’s to send more troops into Iraq. But she voted “present” on a war-funding bill in April 2008 and said that she had many sleepless nights “thinking about this.” Emerson, now remarried, has a personal connection to the war. Her stepdaughter served with the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq.
Her independence has not seemed to adversely affect her influence among House Republicans, perhaps because she has been up-front with party leaders about her views. And it has not affected her electoral prospects; she has won re-election without difficulty every two years. In 2008, she ended speculation about her future by declining to run for governor.