Ind. Rep. Mark Souder to resign after affair with staffer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010; 2:43 PM
Indiana congressman Mark Souder (R) decided to resign his seat after anonymous tipsters began calling aides in his office and his opponents in a Republican primary, claiming he was having an affair with a part-time staffer, according to three sources familiar with the calls.
Last week, after he won the primary, Souder admitted the allegations to his chief of staff, Renee Howell, who confronted the conservative Christian congressman about the rumors that he was having an extra-marital affair with Tracey Meadows Jackson, according to a source in the office. Six days later, on Tuesday morning, Souder publicly admitted the affair -- without naming the longtime staffer -- and said he would resign effective Friday.
The affair began after Jackson was hired in a part-time role in 2004, according to a source knowledgeable about the relationship. Jackson, who is married, was hired to play guest host with Souder for a daily radio spot he recorded for WFCV, a Christian radio station in Ft. Wayne. The spots were taped once a week and aired daily. Jackson played host, asking Souder questions about what he was working on in Washington for his constituents.
"It is with great regret I announce that I am resigning from the U.S. House of Representatives as well as resigning as the Republican nominee for Congress in this fall's election," Souder said in a statement Tuesday. "I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part time member of my staff... I am so shamed to have hurt those I love."
Jackson was also hired to play host for a local cable access show Souder had at one point. The show served as a platform for Souder to discuss conservative issues dear to him. Jackson has also helped produce numerous videos of Souder's speeches and positions, including one in which they discussed his strong support for teen abstinence.
Less than a week before the Republican primary election, anonymous callers phoned some of the Republican candidates running against Souder, with allegations that he was regularly meeting a girlfriend for romantic trysts in state parks. One alleged that he and a staffer went together late at night to the remote and heavily-forested Robinson Lake boat launch in Whitley County. But the opponents questioned the reliability of the information, and did not make a public issue of the claims.
As of Tuesday, Souder and his wife, Diane Zimmer Souder, remained together, according to one knowledgeable source. Souder and his wife have three grown children -- two sons and a daughter -- and two grandchildren.
The public revelations about Souder come two weeks after he survived a serious primary challenge from car dealer Bob Thomas, who spent considerable sums of his own money on the race. Souder won the primary with less than 50 percent of the vote. Thomas and another candidates trailed far behind.
Nate Bullock, a Thomas spokesman, said Thomas considers this a sad episode, but ultimately a personal matter for Souder to handle without politics. "It's inappropriate to comment at this time," Bullock said. "We are not going to make political hay by jumping on some family's troubles or demise. "
How Souder will be replaced on the ballot remains to be seen. State law allows Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) wide leeway in whether or not to call a special election and in the immediate aftermath of the resignation Republicans said it was unlikely there would be any vote before November.
Within 30 days of the Souder vacancy -- and he has said he will resign officially on Friday -- the precinct chairmen and women of the counties in his district must gather to select a replacement. One named being bandied about is state Sen. Marlin Stutzman who ran unsuccessfully for Senate earlier this month.
Souder joins a succession of Members of Congress embroiled in sex scandals in recent years, including Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). Massa resigned, while Ensign and Vitter are still serving in the Senate.
Souder was elected in the GOP wave election of 1994. He represents the Fort Wayne area in northeast Indiana.
Democrats this month nominated Tom Hayhurst. Hayhurst, a repeat candidate, held Souder to 54 percent of the vote in their 2006 matchup.