Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson’s decision to resign from the House of Representatives is disappointing for two reasons.
First, she’s resigning from a position to which she was just elected last month. What happened? She didn’t suddenly and unexpectedly come down with a serious illness that would prevent her from serving out her term. There was no family crisis that would require her to spend more time at home. No. She’s giving up the office to which she was just elected in order to accept a lucrative job offer from a major contributor to her campaigns. In seeking re-election Congresswoman Emerson made an implied commitment to her constituents to serve out the term to which they were electing her. Apparently her real commitment was only to serve a few more weeks until a better offer came along.
Second, it’s disappointing that Congresswoman Emerson is giving up her seat in the House in order to lead a group of lobbyists. Not that there’s anything illegal or even uncommon about leaving Congress in order to lobby. This is a familiar path followed by famous Missourians of both parties. Congressman Dick Gephardt represented a district in South St. Louis for 28 years. He left Congress in 2005 and began a highly lucrative second career as a Washington lobbyist. John Ashcroft was at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Dick Gephardt. He represented Missouri for six years in the Senate and then served as Attorney General for four years. Despite his ideological differences with Dick Gephardt, John Ashcroft chose a similar career upon leaving government service. The conservative from Southwest Missouri, like the liberal from South St. Louis, also became a Washington lobbyist in 2005.
There are, of course, other alternatives for post-Congressional careers. Tom Eagleton and Jack Danforth were members of different political parties and often found themselves on opposite sides of issues in the U. S. Senate. Upon leaving the Senate both men chose to return to St. Louis and live among the people who had sent them to Washington. Instead of selling their expertise and connections as Washington lobbyists, they both devoted their considerable talents to a wide variety of civic endeavors. Senator Eagleton died in 2007, Senator Danforth continues to play an active and influential role in the community.
The decision by former members of Congress to remain in Washington as lobbyists instead of returning to the constituents they once represented is one of the few areas of bipartisanship in the nation’s capital. It’s a choice that has been made both by Democrats like Dick Gephardt and by Republicans like John Ashcroft. It’s also a choice that has been rejected by Democrats like Tom Eagleton and by Republicans like Jack Danforth.
Residents of Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District will soon be asked to elect a successor to Congresswoman Emerson. Before making a decision, voters might want to ask candidates for this office two questions. First, will you complete the term to which you’re asking us to elect you? Second, what are your plans upon leaving office? Is service in Congress a stepping stone to a career as a Washington lobbyist? Or will you come back and live among the people whose interests you now claim to represent?