DAVID ROSMAN: Why does someone serve in elective office?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:52 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Politics is a strange game and makes for stranger bedfellows. A single question needs to be asked when planning to enter the world of local, state, regional, national or international affairs, and answered as honestly as possible: Are you nuts?

No, wrong question. It should be: "Whom will you serve?"

If you are serving your own interests, seeking power and fame, why should I vote for you?                                                                              

Once he or she is elected and all of the money for campaigning is spent, speeches made, hands shaken and babies kissed, does the newly elected or re-elected official honor that commitment for the term of the seat?

This is a tough question to answer, and in some instances may not be answerable at all. This is coming from two elected officials leaving office before their terms end, including one who quit before starting her new term.

Locally, Columbia Councilwoman Helen Anthony is leaving mid-term, but the reason here is very personal. Anthony' s husband has accepted a job in Providence, R.I., and her family is more important than her commitment to the Fifth Ward constituency.

Columbia residents understand this conflict. Anthony did not leave to take another job, to gain personally or professionally, or to simply skip out because the job was too hard. Her overriding commitment is to her husband and family, something all Americans honor.

Then there is Rep. Jo A nn Emerson, R-Mo., who is leaving her U.S. House seat, to which she won re-election in November, to lead a national nonprofit agency.

As reported by, "In a statement, Emerson said she has found a 'new way to serve' the people of southeast Missouri and other parts of rural America by joining the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association as president and chief executive officer.”

But will she be serving the people or the cooperatives?

A large part of Emerson's responsibilities for NRECA is to lobby Congress on behalf of 6,000 of its member cooperatives.

Yes, a 501 (c)(12) cooperative is "owned" by its users, but the NRECA does not represent the owner-consumer.  NRECA's lobbying arm, the Action Committee for Rural Electrification, is "among the top 100 largest PACs in the nation" and represents the interests of the energy companies.

That would make lobbying on behalf of the utilities a very large part of her position as CEO.

An NRECA representative told me the current CEO announced he was stepping down about a year ago.

Committees had to be formed and a recruiting firm hired, so there was a lag period, but Emerson had to know she was in consideration well before the run for re-election. Now comes the hard part.

Many candidates and office holders will run for re-election even if they are running for a higher office. This was true for vice-presidential candidates Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. But that is an elected office to another elected office, and I doubt if either wanted to leave government service. However, Emerson was vying for a nongovernmental job lobbying the government for which she had worked and managed (though it is management by committee) instead of lobbying for her constituents.

NRECA had to know she was in the running for her ninth term in office. Emerson must have had some inkling that she was in the hunt before her Dec. 3 announcement. So why put the state and her constituents through the rigors and expense of the campaign, only to say, "Thank you. Sorry. See ya."?

The difference between these two Missouri politicians is that Anthony’s move was for family, Emerson's for personal and professional gain.

Most would-be politicians seem to answer the question "Why are you running?" with a stock answer, usually something sounding very patriotic. Mayor Bob McDavid wants to finish the work he started, which sounds a lot better than "because the nation/state/county/city needs change."

"Why" is not a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic question. It is one that needs to be asked before throwing one's hat into the ring so that the citizens get their money's worth from our democratic process, however flawed. It needs to be answered honestly and to make sure that the promises made to represent the constituency are held.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams December 12, 2012 | 11:12 a.m.

The title of this article is certainly odd, given it is more of an Emerson-bash and Anthony-lovefest than anything else. It beats me how Rosman is able to read Emerson's mind so well; he should consult with neurologists, the CIA, and most certainly the Departments of Inuendo and Petty Snideness at UMC.

That now put aside, I believe most politicians start out wishing to serve the people, but through the awful compromises of principle they endure (I'll vote for your bill, but you have to swallow the contents of my bill) plus the money, they eventually become so jaded that "me first" becomes the norm. And I think that's true for politicians of ALL stripes. Do politicians EVER come out of office equivalent or poorer than they entered?

Personally, I would consider breaking-even plus inflation would be more in line with their election rhetoric rather than the final product of 100X richer plus forever pensions.

Work for the people, my ass......

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