By Linda Killian, the Thomas Jefferson Street blog
So, another one bites the dust. This time it’s Mark Souder. Yet another unseemly scandal has taken out a Republican member of the House Class of ’94, one of the most celebrated and historic classes in congressional history. Souder, a nerdy, intense conservative who once described himself to me as a policy wonk, admitted Tuesday to having a relationship with a part-time staff member and announced his resignation from Congress effective Friday.
Souder is an Evangelical Christian who grew up in the Apostolic Church and is extremely conservative on social issues. He made seven references to God in his brief resignation statement.
Not of course, that someone who believes in God can’t transgress, but there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the woman he was involved with recorded a daily radio spot for a Christian radio station in Ft. Wayne with Souder. She also made conservative issue-related videos with Souder including one on teen abstinence. Obviously, there wasn’t much abstinence going on with this couple.
Back in 1996, when I was covering the re-election campaigns of members of the Class of ’94 for my book,
I visited Souder’s Indiana district and attended a church service at which he spoke.
“The devil is right outside,” he told the congregation. “If we honor Jesus Christ, if we do everything we can, it’s in his hands…We would be going straight to hell if it wasn’t for him.”
Souder undoubtedly believes in the religious concepts of forgiveness and redemption, and made reference to them in his statement Tuesday, but it appears he does not also trust the voters to forgive his transgression.
In his statement, Souder said, “It has been a privilege to be part of the battle for freedom and the values we share.” One wonders exactly what values he is talking about.
When Souder and the other 72 new Republican House members were elected in 1994, giving the GOP control of the House for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, they made a big deal out of their family values and purity on fiscal matters. They even shut down the government over the issue of reducing spending and balancing the budget.
But scandals and missteps, both personal and professional, have felled a disproportionately large number of the class. Only 14 of the original GOP class of ’94 remain in the House and, counting Souder, five of them are leaving Congress this year. Several succumbed to the temptations of Washington and the flesh almost immediately and lost their bids for re-election. Others flamed out in more spectacular ways.
Mark Foley of Florida had been a subject of speculation and rumor for years until his unseemly behavior with Congressional pages cost him his seat and contributed to the Democrats winning back the House in 2006.
Robert Ney of Ohio was caught up in the Abramoff scandal and served jail time.
Mark Sanford, a member of the class before becoming governor of South Carolina, became the poster boy for the lovesick and the foolish.
Nevada Sen. John Ensign, also a member of the class, is still facing investigation over sexual and financial issues both by the Senate Ethics Committee and reportedly the FBI.
And of course, former Speaker Newt Gingrich was engaging in his own extramarital affair at the same time he was fighting with President Bill Clinton over shutting down the government. Gingrich’s reign as speaker didn’t last nearly as long as the Republican hold on the House.
The Republicans promised to be different, more fiscally responsible. And while they were for a while, their desire to do whatever it took to get reelected overtook their conservative fiscal instincts. When the Democrats were given back control of Congress, they too promised change. But the voters don’t think they’ve delivered.
Voters are angry again and in the mood to throw the bums out. But if history is any guide, just changing the faces in Washington or the party in control won’t do the trick.
Citizens have to keep a closer eye on their elected public servants and make it very clear what they expect from them. They have to call, write and show up at town meetings. It’s essential to be an active partner in democracy, not just vote every couple of years and figure the job is done. Otherwise, groups like the Tea Party, who are all too happy to take control of the election process, will determine the future direction of the country. And that’s far too important a matter for all of us not to make our voices heard.