Wait, Where Are You Going, Senator DeMint? How Can You Go Now?
You’ll pardon me if I’m not relentlessly upbeat about Thursday’s big news:
South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will replace Ed Feulner as president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. DeMint will leave his post as South Carolina’s junior senator in early January to take control of the Washington think tank, which has an annual budget of about $80 million.
Sen. DeMint’s departure means that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, will name a successor, who will have to run in a special election in 2014. In that year, both Mr. DeMint’s replacement and Sen. Lindsey Graham will be running for reelection in South Carolina.
Mr. DeMint was reelected to a second term in 2010. The 61-year-old senator had announced earlier that he would not seek a third term.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this move to DeMint; as one fan of the senator put it to me Thursday, this is just about the most active role a senator can take after leaving office, short of the presidency or perhaps some of the bigger cabinet slots. And running the Heritage Foundation is, quite literally, a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
And this is just about the best possible news for Heritage; who better to replace Feulner than an extremely prominent lawmaker, with unparalleled admiration and trust from grassroots conservatives? I suspect the Heritage Foundation’s fundraising is going to be off-the-charts in the coming year.
But if the move is great for DeMint and Heritage, it may be not so great for you and me and the rest of the conservative movement.
The issue isn’t really who replaces DeMint; whoever South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley chooses, they’re going to be a reliable Republican and probably a reliable conservative (at least by national standards, if not by South Carolina standards). Of course, whoever the new guy is, he’ll be a rookie. DeMint had established himself as the guy willing to be the lightning rod, to be willing to back the Marco Rubios against the Charlie Crists and the Pat Toomeys against the Arlen Specters. He was willing to take the heat and the flak, and in the process provide some cover for some other lawmakers who might have been less politically secure, less able to take strong stands in less heavily-Republican states. DeMint’s replacement will have big shoes to fill.
The bigger problem is the signal this sends about the prospects for the conservative movement for the next four years or so.
Two years into a six year term, DeMint decided there was nothing going on in the Senate worth sticking around for, at least in the near future – another four years of President Obama, another two to four years of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. No conservative reform likely to be enacted, no likely prospect of constructive compromise, nothing likely to get done. That is some depressing stuff there, brother.
We have a movement full of people who love their country and who are terrified of the course that it continues to careen along. We go to them, and we ask them for their votes, for their time, and for their money. And they give all of those. One of the things we have asked them to do is help elect lawmakers like Jim DeMint . . .
. . . and then DeMint sees something he wants to do more than serve in the Senate and suddenly he leaves without warning. And he does it right after our movement feels like it’s been kicked in the teeth by the electorate.
I mean, if Jim DeMint doesn’t see any point to remaining in the Senate for the next few years . . . why should we be so focused on the Senate ourselves?
Because he’s not the only Republican lawmaker to follow his reelection with a sudden announcement of a departure to a high-paying private sector gig:
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) will retire from the House in February of next year, cutting her tenure short to become president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and setting off a Republican frenzy for her seat. Emerson will become CEO of the NRECA on March 1, according to a spokesman for the association, but she will join the staff and start transition activities on Feb. 11. The group is the trade organization for the nation’s nearly 1,000 mostly rural electric cooperative utilities.
The NRECA executive board voted to approve her for the post on Monday, and Emerson announced her resignation shortly after. She said that her compensation in the new position is “more generous than I’m making now.”
The range of salaries for vice presidents at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is $135,000 to $322,000, so we can take a guess at how well the CEO is paid.