Ind. lawmaker falls harder as words, actions clash
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – On camera, Rep. Mark Souder was a paragon of morality, espousing the virtues of family values and abstinence education.
But off camera, the Indiana Republican was living a far different life as he engaged in an affair with a married part-time aide whose chief duties included helping him prepare moralistic audio and video productions posted on his website.
A day after Souder admitted cheating on his wife of 36 years and announced he would resign his northeast Indiana House seat, news of the affair offered a sad, but in some ways timeless, portrait: A politician caught flatfooted in the space between his words and his actions.
“We see it again and again,” said Bob Schmuhl, a University of Notre Dame political analyst. “At a certain point we shouldn’t be shocked, but we still are when something like this happens.”
Souder is one in a line of politicians snared in recent sex scandals. Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York resigned in March amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign – both Republicans who have held onto their offices – admitted to extramarital affairs.
But Souder’s fall may be harder because of the way it contradicts the evangelical Christian beliefs he professed. He often talked about working in Congress to change the “moral direction” of the United States and described himself as an “ultraconservative” with strong views on marital fidelity and family values.
He has three adult children and two grandchildren with his wife, Diane.
“I think the people who get treated the worst are the ones who preach the most, are the most pious. Nobody loves a hypocrite,” said Ross Baker a political science professor at Rutgers University.
Souder, like Ensign and others, set himself up as a “shining knight,” Baker said.
“There are some people who have kind of a malicious delight at a downfall like that,” Baker said.
Little is known about how the affair began with the aide, whom two senior congressional aides with firsthand knowledge on Wednesday identified as Tracy Meadows Jackson of Syracuse, Ind. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Rumors of Souder’s infidelity had circulated in northeastern Indiana for months, including some allegations of late-night trysts in area parks. Opponents reported receiving anonymous calls a few days before the May 4 primary with allegations of the affair.
The matter came to a head over the weekend, when Souder aides contacted House Minority Leader John Boehner about the relationship. Boehner spoke on the phone with Souder on Monday, and soon after reported his conversation to the House Ethics Committee.
Jackson, who contributed $500 to Souder’s campaign in 2002, helped Souder with audio and video productions, interviewing him for TV and radio pieces on issues that amplified an aspect of Souder’s political persona he was always happy to sell – his strong social conservative beliefs.
One video, focusing on abstinence education, became a YouTube sensation after Souder’s announcement Tuesday. In it, the congressman said 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.”
Like Souder, Jackson professed conservative Christian views, offering comments – since taken down – on her Facebook page and often commenting on Souder’s own posts. Her page has since been removed, while Souder’s has been made private.
Records show Jackson was paid more than $76,000 for her work, along with more than $10,000 in reimbursements for travel. She resigned Tuesday, according to the aides.
She did not return phone calls and e-mails from The Associated Press Tuesday and Wednesday. A man who answered the door at her home Tuesday declined to comment.
News of her involvement stunned those in the small community of Syracuse, where her husband, Brad, is a Kosciusko County commissioner.
“He’s a real nice guy. If it’s true (about the affair), that would be more of a shock than Souder resigning,” said Art Carboneau, who has owned Syracuse Hardware for more than 30 years and knows Brad Jackson as a regular customer.
As Souder planned to clean out his office pending his Friday departure from Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats angled Wednesday to take his seat in Congress. Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he will call a special election this summer to determine who will serve the remainder of Souder’s eighth term.
The Democratic field is locked with Tom Hayhurst, a former Fort Wayne city councilman who won the primary and in 2006 gave Souder his toughest challenge since he was first elected in 1994.
Several Republicans, including State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a tea party favorite who finished second in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate two weeks ago, and Bob Thomas, a car dealer, and Phil Troyer, a lawyer, who both lost to Souder in the primary, have expressed interest in the seat.
Ironically, Brad Jackson is a private pilot and friend of Stutzman. According to campaign finance records, he contributed $200 to Stutzman’s failed Senate campaign. Jackson also flew Stutzman to some events during his campaign, a Stutzman spokesman said.
Calls to Souder’s office Wednesday went directly to voice mail. But in his announcement Tuesday, he apologized and asked for forgiveness.
“I am so ashamed to have hurt the ones I love,” he said. “I am sorry to have let so many friends down, people who have worked so hard for me.”