Ind. Rep. Mark Souder has announced he will resign because of an affair with a staffer, giving Democrats a chance at what many thought a safe Republican seat. Souder, an evangelical Christian who championed family values and traditional marriage, apologized but provided no details during an emotional news conference in Fort Wayne.
“I am so ashamed to have hurt the ones I love,” he said as he battled tears. “I am sorry to have let so many friends down, people who have worked so hard for me.”
His resignation is effective May 21.
The announcement stunned many in politics.
“Most people in this part of the state are as dumbfounded as they could be,” said Bob Schmuhl, a political analyst and University of Notre Dame professor.
Gov. Mitch Daniels was surprised and disappointed.
“He did a wrong thing, but now he’s done the right thing,” Daniels said.
A special election will be held to fill the vacancy. The winner will complete the term ending in January.
Republican and Democratic precinct committeemen will choose special election nominees, and Republican precinct officials will choose a November Ballot candidate.
Throughout his time in Congress, Souder made his evangelism central to his persona. He was known for outspoken religious views and uncompromising positions on social issues such as abortion.
He said after a 2008 hearing on abstinence-only education that the only fully reliable way young people can protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs is by “abstaining from sex until in a committed, faithful relationship.”
As a lawmaker, Souder was best known for his work on drug enforcement issues and opposition to online gambling. He played an important role in 2006 legislation signed by President George W. Bush that targeted meth dealers.
“To serve has been a blessing and a responsibility given from God. I wish I could have been a better example,” Souder said, his voice breaking. “I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.”
He chose to resign rather than subject his family to a “painful, drawn-out process” in “the poisonous environment of Washington.”
Souder, 59, has been married since 1974. He has three children and two grandchildren.
Souder was seeking a ninth term after winning the May 4 Republican primary.
Souder’s resignation continues a significant turnover among Indiana congressmen this year – Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth and Republican Rep. Steve Buyer.