FORT WAYNE, Ind -- Saying he had "sinned against God, my wife and my family," Rep. Mark Souder announced his resignation from Congress Tuesday just two weeks after defeating three Republican challengers in a bid for his ninth term.
Reading a prepared statement in his Fort Wayne district office, Souder tearfully acknowledged having a "mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. I am so ashamed to have hurt those I love."
His last day in office will be Friday, and he will not be on the November ballot for re-election.
Souder was elected to Congress as part of the GOP's "Contract with America" movement in 1994. Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine, who said he had been hearing rumors of Souder's problems for months, said it is unclear how Souder will be replaced for the duration of this term, although Gov. Mitch Daniels could call a special election.
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His replacement on the ballot, however, must be chosen by district precinct leaders within 30 days, and Shine said the "phone is already ringing off the hook" with calls from prospective candidates.
Although Shine would not endorse any single candidate, he said state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in this month's primary against winner Dan Coats, appears to be an early favorite. Shine said he's confident the seat will remain in Republican hands regardless of the candidate. "This is a personal issue, not a party issue. It's about a man, not a philosophy. I'm saddened," Shine said.
Souder defeated automobile dealer Bob Thomas, attorney Phil Troyer and mobile-home park owner Phil Dickman in this month's primary, winning 48 percent of the vote compared to 34 percent for runner-up Thomas. That same week, members of his staff denied a report by Howie Politics Indiana that he had already ruled out of running again in 2012.
The man who would have been Souder's Democratic opponent in November, physician Tom Hayhurst, said before Souder's news conference that he had heard a rumor that Souder might be resigning but said he will continue to focus on the issues facing northeast Indiana. "There are a lot of good people out there who could run (in Souder's place); I am less interested in who they are and more interested about what they say they will do," said Hayhurst.
Souder joined Congress after working 10 years for former Sen. Dan Coats, who will again seek that seat in November. Souder has been a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Education and Labor. He has been named one of the four most effective "conservative true believers" in Congress by Congressional Quarterly magazine.
Souder, 59, married the former Diane Zimmer in 1974, and they have three grown children.
In his resignation statement, Souder said he was resigning with "great regret." With shaking hands and quaking voice, he added that the decision is best for his family, his district and his country. "I can never fully thank all those who worked so hard, given so much and supported me ... it has been all-consuming for me to do this job well ... I do not have any kind of a 'normal' life [--] for family, for friends, for church. To serve has been a blessing and responsibility given from God ... I wish I could have been a better example.
"In the poisonous environment of Washington, any personal failing is seized upon. I am resigning rather than put my family through that painful, drawn-out process ... but the error is mine, and I should bear the responsibility ... my comfort is that God is a gracious and forgiving God to those who sincerely seek his forgiveness, as I do.
Souder, who took no questions, added that "As I leave public office, my plans are focused on repairing my marriage, earning back the trust of my family and my community and renewing my walk with the Lord."