JEFFERSON CITY — A 32-year run of Emerson family representation in Congress ended Tuesday in Missouri, but Republican Jo An Emerson didn't get her final wish as she formally resigned to lead an association of rural electric providers.
Emerson, 62, had timed her resignation in hopes that a special election could be set for April 2 to choose her successor in southeast Missouri's 8th Congressional District.
Instead, Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that he will schedule the election for June 4. The Democratic governor said the later date was necessary to comply with various state and federal laws setting the deadline for independent candidates to file for office and for absentee ballots to be available for military and overseas voters.
Emerson, who was officially resigning at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, had announced in early December that she would resign by February to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Emerson said she pushed up her resignation in an attempt to provide enough time for a special election to coincide with Missouri's April 2 municipal elections.
"There are a lot of tough issues coming up, and I think it's to the benefit of the constituents and the state to have as little time without a representative as possible," Emerson said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Washington, D.C. "That's why April 2 would be a terrific time period."
But Nixon's administration said the June date takes into consideration various federal and state deadlines.
One Missouri statute requires at least 10 weeks' advance notice to local election officials before any election. Another state law allows independent candidates to file for special elections up to the midway point of between when an election is called and when it is actually held. With 10 weeks of advance notice, the filing deadline would be 35 days before the election.
But that wasn't enough time to comply with a federal law that requires absentee ballots to be available to military and overseas voters 45 days before an election.
Emerson suggested Tuesday that the federal government could grant a waiver to its military voter law.
But Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander, a former Army intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, does not plan to seek a waiver.
"These are people who serve our country. We certainly don't want to leave them out in the cold just to make it more convenient and hustle someone into the office," said Kander spokeswoman Liz Abram-Oldham.
Emerson first won election to Congress in 1996 to succeed her husband, Republican Rep. Bill Emerson, after he died of lung cancer. Bill Emerson had represented the southeast Missouri district since 1981.
Jo Ann Emerson earned a reputation as political moderate — or, as she described herself Tuesday, one of a dwindling number of "center-right folks." She staunchly supported federal subsidies for farmers, noting the importance of agricultural crops to the economy of her district even as some fiscal conservatives denounced the government subsidies. Emerson also touted a more open trading relationship with Cuba among her major accomplishments.
She said Tuesday that she was proud of the infrastructure improvements that occurred in her district during her tenure, including the widening of several major highways and an expansion of Southeast Missouri State University. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Emerson was chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. She said she worked to cut agency budgets without undermining their ability to function.
Emerson also bemoaned that Congress had become "much less civil than when I arrived."
Under Missouri law, Republican and Democratic party committees nominate candidates for a special election when vacancies occur in Congress. Most of the focus has been on the potential GOP nominee, because the district's voters have tended to favor Republicans.
About a dozen hopeful Republican candidates attended a forum last week in Cape Girardeau. A committee for 86 Republicans is expected to meet next month in Van Buren to pick a nominee.