By Mike O’Brien and Molly K. Hooper - 05/19/10 12:22 AM EDT
Rep. Mark Souder’s (R-Ind.) stunning resignation announcement on Tuesday in the wake of his affair with a staffer has further dwindled the historic Class of 1994.
Of the 73 House GOP members elected that year, only 10 will be serving in the lower chamber next year — if they win their reelection bids.
Revelations of an affair with a staff member in his district office prompted Souder to announce his resignation, effective Friday.
The Indiana conservative admitted the affair, blaming Washington politics for playing a role in his decision to leave.
“I sinned against God, my wife and family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff,” he said during an emotional five-minute speech in his Indiana district on Tuesday. “In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than … put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.”
Souder choked up on several occasions during his statement to the media, pausing at various points to compose himself.
“I do not have any sort of normal life,” Souder said.
Souder has been married to his wife, Diane, for 36 years and they have three adult children, according to the congressman’s website.
He said his family was willing to stand with him on Tuesday, but they did not.
“The error is mine,” Souder said, criticizing politicians who drag their spouses in front of the cameras “rather than confronting the problem they caused.”
Souder’s decision could damage the Republicans’ chances of holding on to the GOP-leaning district in northeastern Indiana. Souder won a bruising Republican primary on May 4 with 48 percent of the vote and was to face the Democratic candidate who four years ago gave him the toughest challenge since he was first elected in 1994. Still, the seat is likely to remain in GOP hands. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won Souder’s district by more than 10 points in the 2008 presidential election.
Souder, 59, said he would not be a candidate in the fall election. It will be up to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels to decide whether to call a special election to fill the vacancy or wait until the November ballot. State Republicans have 30 days to replace Souder on the ballot.
The admission by Souder was just the latest in a string of sex scandals to have tarnished the Class of 1994’s legacy, which was defined in part by an aggressively socially conservative agenda.
Sex scandals loom over South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), a member of the ’94 freshman class who divorced his wife this year after admitting in 2009 to carrying on an affair with an Argentinean mistress. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) remains under investigation for an affair he had with an aide who was married to another staffer working for him. A Senate Ethics panel and the FBI are said to be looking into an alleged deal Ensign had made to keep the affair under wraps.
Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned abruptly in 2006 after having allegedly sent sexually explicit messages to male congressional pages.
Scandal also touched on former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who stepped aside in 2006 following corruption convictions related to the Jack Abramoff case. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) retired in 2008 amid questions about his land holdings in Nicaragua. Earlier, after Republicans’ takeover of the House, Reps. Jim Bunn (R-Ore.), Wes Cooley (R-Ore.) and Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-Utah) either retired or lost reelection following allegations of impropriety.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly vowed to run the House differently if Republicans win back the chamber, and Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told The Hill that the leader “has been perfectly clear that he will hold our members to the highest ethical standards.”
Souder’s aides approached Boehner’s staff about the congressman’s infidelity on Sunday, according to a House GOP leadership aide. Boehner spoke with Souder on Monday, leading to the Indiana congressman’s resignation announcement on Tuesday.
Both parties maintained a measured distance from Souder on Tuesday, though, with few official statements by lawmakers or party committees having been issued.
Steve Largent, a 1994 freshman classmate of Souder’s, calls the situation “very sad on a number of different fronts.”
Reflecting on members of the House class that drove the GOP revolution, Largent told The Hill that in 1994 “the media world in general tried to paint a picture that we were cookie-cutter congressmen, all cut out of the same cloth. But over time, what they’ve seen is that most are very different from one another.”
Largent, a Hall of Fame NFL wide receiver, is now president of CTIA-The Wireless Association.
The 10 members from the Class of 1994, if reelected, who will be serving in the House next year are: Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.), Doc Hastings (Wash.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Tom Latham (Iowa), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Sue Myrick (N.C.), Mac Thornberry (Texas), Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Brian Bilbray (Calif.), who lost his reelection bid in 2000 but returned to Washington after winning in 2006.
That number could go up to 12 if two members of the 1994 GOP class — Reps. Charlie Bass (N.H.) and Steve Chabot (Ohio) — succeed in their races this fall to reclaim their old seats.
Seven members of the Class of ’94 are now senators, including Sam Brownback (Kan.), who’s also among the group of four current or former House members who are running for governor of their respective states this fall. Three current or former members are also running for Senate in primaries or general elections this fall.
Other members of the 1994 class have gone onto other successful careers in politics beyond Congress. Ray LaHood, a former Republican lawmaker from Illinois, is now serving as Transportation secretary in the Obama administration. Former Rep. Bill Martini (R) now serves as a federal district judge in New Jersey. And Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, now hosts the semi-eponymous television show “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.