As far as Mark Souder's resignation is concerned, it was the best of timing and the worst of timing.
At least that's Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine's assessment of a stunning decision that will leave Indiana's 3rd Congressional District without representation, albeit during the least-productive time of the year, while forcing those same taxpayers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a special election.
Had Souder resigned before his victory in the May 4 primary, or chosen not to seek a ninth term, “It could have avoided a very expensive situation and significant cost to the people of Allen County,” Shine said at a Tuesday news conference at party headquarters. It was just hours after a tearful Souder announced his resignation, effective Friday, over a “mutual relationship” with a part-time staff member identified by Fox News and others as Tracy Jackson, a part-time aide at his regional office who, according to Legistorm.com, earned $12,541 last year. As Shine spoke, a portrait of Souder hung on the wall just a few feet away. As outlined Tuesday by Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, the date of a special election to fill Souder's seat must be set by Gov. Mitch Daniels – a process that must take at least 60 days. But Zack Klutz, Republican member of the county Election Board, said the election probably couldn't be held for at least 75 to 80 days because of the logistics of staging such a large event.
“We'll have to hire 1,000 workers and have 130 voting locations,” he said, noting that some usual precinct spots may not be available on such short notice. Election officials will ask County Council for the necessary funding next month. The Allen County Election Board estimates the cost of the special election at $275,000 for Allen County alone.
Had Souder resigned earlier, perhaps his seat could have been filled May 4 without additional expense, Shine noted.
“But the silver lining is that Congress is slow during the summer, so the timing that way couldn't have been better,” he said.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said 3rd District residents will still have some representation in Congress during the void, at least when it comes to day-to-day functions, because Souder's staff will remain on the job. But without a sitting representative, he said, there can be no “policy representation.”
Some of Souder's ceremonial duties, meanwhile, could be handled by other representatives, such as 6th District Republican Mike Pence, whose district includes part of Allen County. In fact, Downs said, such ceremonial duties – “such as serving as a parade marshal” – may even be in other representatives' political interests. The absence of a representative, however, may mean residents will simply stop calling the 3rd District office for help with a variety of governmental issues, he added. Both the Democrat and Republican parties will have to field a candidate in the special election, meaning each will have to conduct a district-wide caucus. Shine said he expects the candidate chosen by the GOP to also be selected to appear on the November ballot. That, Shine said, “will give him time to prove himself to the voters.” The candidate elected in November will take office Jan. 3, 2011. The Libertarian Party can also participate, Rokita said, along with candidates from other parties who gather enough signatures. The location of the Republican caucus is undetermined, but Shine hopes it is held in Allen, the largest county in the district.
Shine said he expects Republican candidates to enter the caucus with a “clean slate,” despite the presence of three other candidates on the May 4 congressional ballot.
Shine said car dealer Bob Thomas, who received 34 percent of the vote to Souder's 48, has already contacted him about the vacancy. Fort Wayne attorney Phil Troyer, who won 16 percent of the vote, said he is likely to be a candidate.
“I'm shocked. I've known Souder for 20 years, and this is so out of character,” Troyer said Tuesday. “My prayers go out to him and his family.”
In a statement, Thomas said “it would be inappropriate to comment on Congressman Souder's resignation at this time. This is a difficult situation for Mr. Souder's family and the district.” Thomas said he would release more information about his future plans later this week.
State Sen. Marlin Stutzman may be considered a frontrunner, Shine said, while declining to endorse a candidate. Some GOP insiders said Thomas is unlikely to win the caucus because of his heated campaign against Souder. Stutzman was an unsuccessful candidate in the May Senate race won by former Sen. Dan Coats.
The last special congressional election in Indiana came in 2008, when Andre Carson was elected in the 7th District after the death of Julia Carson. According to the Washington Post, Souder decided to resign after anonymous tipsters began calling aides in his office and his primary challengers. Last week, the Post said, Souder admitted the allegations to his Chief of Staff, Renee Howell, who then confronted him about the rumors. The Post added that Jackson, who is also married, was guest host with Souder for radio spots recorded for Fort Wayne Christian radio station WFCV.
One allegation was that he and a staffer were seen together late at night near Robinson Lake in Whitley County, the Post reported.