The sudden resignation of conservative Republican Rep. Mark Souder after his public admission of an extramarital affair left an open seat in this heavily Republican Northeast Indiana district. In June, GOP officials picked conservative state Sen. Marlin Stutzman as their nominee for the special election on November 2, which was the same day as the general election. With Stutzman’s victory, he takes the seat immediately and can vote on legislation in a lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.
Stutzman is a fourth-generation farmer who grew up in Howe, Ind. His parents were Mennonites, a denomination of Anabaptists that shares historical roots with the Amish. His father was 19 and his mother 17 when they were married, and neither attended college. Stutzman is the oldest of four children, all of whom worked on the family farm from a young age driving tractors, feeding livestock, and sorting vegetables. When he was 14, Stutzman started raising his own livestock herd, which reached almost 100 animals before he sold them. He attended Tri-State University (now Trine University) for two years to study accounting, but he dropped out to focus on farming. He married a teacher when he was 23, and converted to her religion, Baptism. They had their first child a year later.
Today, he is the co-owner with his father of Stutzman Farms and the sole owner of a trucking company. He estimates that in the past 15 years, he has collected $100,000 in farm subsidies from the federal government. But Stutzman, however, says he favors phasing out subsidies because he views them as unnecessary government interference in the free market and they increase the federal debt.
Stutzman did not have political ambitions growing up, and formed his early political views by listening to conservative talk-radio programs while driving his tractor. He first became involved in local politics out of frustration with navigating state regulations as a small-business owner. Once, incorrect information from the state Department of Revenue regarding the transfer of license plates for his trucking company cost him thousands of dollars. “I soon found out that government is not always your friend,” he said.
In 2002, when no one registered to challenge a long-time incumbent Democrat in the Indiana House, Stutzman filed papers to run on the last possible day. He won by 249 votes, becoming the youngest member of the House at 26 years old. In three terms, Stutzman helped to pass a tax credit for ethanol producers and authored Indiana’s lifetime handgun permit law, which frees gun owners from having to renew their licenses. He was the co-author of the bill that created the Indiana Department of Agriculture, which he describes as an advocacy agency rather than a regulatory one. In 2005, he pushed a bill that created tougher regulations for abortion providers, and in 2006, he became chairman of the powerful Public Policy Committee. From 2005 to 2008, while still a state representative, Stutzman worked as Souder’s special assistant in his district office. In 2008, Stutzman won a seat in the state Senate, and harbored ambitions for even higher office.
The following year, he announced that he would seek the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh. Then in February, Bayh declared he would not seek reelection, creating an open-seat opportunity that generated interest among other Republicans. In the primary, Stutzman faced former Sen. Daniel Coats and former Rep. John Hostettler. Although national Republicans recruited Coats for the race, Stutzman had the support of tea party activists and conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who was attempting to boost the number of conservative candidates around the country. Although Coats ultimately won the nomination, Stutzman came in second with 29 percent of the vote, only 10 percent behind Coats, the eventual general-election winner.
The results raised Stutzman’s political profile and helped him win the support of Republican officials when Souder ran into political trouble last spring. The incumbent looked to be well on his way to securing a ninth term when he revealed in May that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with one of his aides. Because Souder had already won the GOP primary, a replacement was chosen by party officials at their June caucus. Stutzman was the heavy favorite over his Democratic opponent, former Fort Wayne City Council member Tom Hayhurst.