"I want you to keep your eye on Mark Souder," veteran conservative activist Ron Pearson told Newsmax soon after the 1994 elections that gave Republicans majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years. "I've known him a long time and believe me — he's a comer."
Souder had just captured Indiana's 4th District (Fort Wayne) and was just one of 73 new House Republicans in the so-called "Gingrich Class," named after the incoming House speaker who led them to their historic victory.
When Mark Edward Souder died Monday at age 74 following a long bout with cancer, news reports in the Hoosier State inevitably commenced with the bombastic story of his extramarital affair with a part-time female staffer that brought about the congressman's resignation — unexpectedly and almost overnight.
But those close to the congressman such as Pearson chose to recall the earnest, good-as-Goldwater conservative with a passion for both ideas and action. In Pearson's words, "Mark Souder was a conservative activist in high school and college. He was a conservative in Congress. He had some ups and downs during his career but was a man of faith and has gone home to be with the Lord."
As a high school student and undergraduate at Indiana State University, the young Souder was active in the conservative Young Americans for Freedom and devoured the works of right-of-center titans such as Edmund Burke, Milton Friedman and Russell Kirk.
He volunteered for the campaigns of Republican Reps. Dan Quayle and Dan Coats. It was Coats who brought him to Washington in 1983 as a member of his staff and, two years later, tapped Souder as minority staff director of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. When Coats went to the Senate in 1989, Souder became one of his top aides.
His political and policy experiences notwithstanding, Souder also sported a resume in the private sector. He earned a master's degree in business administration (MBA) from Notre Dame and worked as marketing manager for Gabberts Furniture. In a short time, he was owner of his own general store.
Utilizing his contacts in the Fort Wayne business community and his political contacts accrued from working for Coats, Souder won the Republican nomination for Congress in 1994 over the candidate backed by the local GOP establishment. That fall, he unseated Democrat Rep. Jill Long, who had held the seat for five years.
Given his conservative pedigree, it was no surprise to find Rep. Souder compiling a lifetime rating of 89.83% with the American Conservative Union. He freely spoke of his Christian faith and study of the Bible as lodestars of his philosophy, saying "on abortion, there's really not much room to compromise" and explained his passion for Israel on the grounds that "they are God's chosen people. He's going to stand with them. The question: Are we going to stand with them?"
But the soft-spoken, bespectacled Hoosier was not a fiery ideologue or a politician who walked a mile for a camera. Working with colleagues of both parties, he was the principal author of and force behind the scenes of the Higher Education Aid Elimination Penalty (HEAEP).
The provision, an amendment to the Higher Education Act, banned eligibility for federal financial aid to college students convicted of drug-related offenses. President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1998.
Jim Pfaff, a longtime Hoosier Republican operative, characterized Souder as "the most skilled political strategist Indiana ever had. We disagreed on a few things. But he was a good friend.
"This man — schooled in the tradition of another great Hoosier, [onetime Indianapolis News editor and conservative icon] M. Stanton Evans — understood politics and policy better than just about anyone. He did pay a price with his fall from grace. But he went back to his wife and made amends, eventually restoring his dignity. He did the right thing in the end."
Souder resigned from Congress in May of 2010, he apologized for wrongdoing and returned to his home in rural Allen County. His marriage to wife, Diane, survived.
But he didn't fade from politics. State Attorney General Todd Rokita recalled to Newsmax that "Mark was helpful when I first ran for Congress in 2010. He had a great gift for the written word and translated the intricate and toxic workings of Congress better than nearly everyone.
"His death is of no surprise as he had been cataloguing his journey with detail and passion [in an-line blog] just as he wrote of politics itself. The Hoosier political world and everyone he touched is worse off for losing his intelligent light."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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