SSDP "Souder Squad" Bushwhacks Congressman in Home District 3/1/02

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Rep. Mark Souder, the Indiana Republican responsible for the anti-drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), thought he would be safe from students angered by the provision if he held an event in his home district. He was wrong. Last Friday evening a delegation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) members from Indiana, Illinois and Washington, DC, made the congressional drug warrior uncomfortably aware that his HEA anti-drug provision, which has barred 43,000 students from receiving financial aid so far this year, will make him the object of protests and outrage wherever he goes. And with Souder facing a strong challenge in the Republican primary this spring, his authorship and continued support of the provision could well become a drag on his electoral chances.

The event last Friday in Fort Wayne was supposed to a photo op event for Souder. Instead it turned into a footrace and heated parking lot discussion between the fleeing congressman and students demanding he repeal the provision before the congressman leapt into his limo and sped away into the night. Souder, along with Sallie Mae, a student financial aid assistance corporation, was cosponsor of "Paying For College," a forum open to the public about receiving federal financial aid for college. But what should have been a time for Souder to bask in his constituents' good will instead saw the congressman heading for the exits rather than defend the HEA anti-drug provision.

"Souder had very little notice, but he knew we were coming," said SSDP media consultant Adam Eidinger. "We tipped off the local media, and all three local TV stations and both local papers showed up," he told DRCNet. "And we leafleted beforehand; we made sure everyone in attendance knew he wrote the law denying aid to 43,000 students."

Although attendees expected a question and answer session, Souder strode into the room saying he couldn't stay. "He usually takes questions and answers," said SSDP national director Shawn Heller, who confronted the congressman outside the event. "But this time he only made a couple of brief comments. When I yelled out 'Congressman Souder, a quick question,' he bolted for the door," Heller told DRCNet. "We followed him, and the TV cameras followed us."

What followed was a five-minute discussion between Heller and Souder as the cameras rolled, with the congressman growing increasingly angry as his assertions were challenged. "What really ticked off Souder was when Shawn started talking about how the bill had never even been debated," said Eidinger. "Souder got visibly angry then, shaking his hand beside Shawn's head. And then he took off."

"We wanted to raise awareness of this issue and to expose Souder for what he really is," said Heller. "We won't let him hide behind his rhetoric; he needs to repeal this law. Unless he moves to repeal this law, he should expect more of the same," Heller added.

SSDP is keeping an eye on Souder's events calendar and will be developing a strategy to have a greater presence in Souder's district, said Eidinger. "There is an SSDP regional conference in Chicago on April 12, and after that we will have a three-week window to work this issue before the May 7 primary," he said. "We're hoping to have students go into the district and we're hoping to get students in the district out to vote. This is an open primary, anyone who is registered can vote, and a few hundred votes could decide it," he added. "If Souder's vote total drops by 2,000 votes, he could lose." Members of SSDP are forming a political action committee (PAC) for the effort.

Souder is particularly vulnerable this year for a couple of reasons. First, his old congressional district has been redrawn this year, so he has largely lost the power of incumbency and is competing for a new 3rd District. As important, he is facing his strongest Republican challenger yet in former Fort Wayne mayor Paul Helmke, a social moderate who only announced two days before the deadline, but who has emerged as potent competition for Souder.

"You shoot one monkey to scare a hundred," said Eidinger. "This is a campaign issue now and Souder's opponents can use his HEA anti-drug provision against him. If Souder goes down, that will send a real message to other politicians who are considering similar approaches."

Carolyn Lunman, an SSDP member from George Washington University, was a member of the Souder Squad. "It was an exhilarating experience to see Souder make an ass of himself," she told DRCNet. "He had no response to anything we said, because there is no good response." As for continuing to shadow the congressman? "He'd better watch his back," vowed Lunman. "We'll be there."

View the SSDP-Souder confrontation in Real Video, at http://www.ssdp.org/video/souder-confrontation.rm online.

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Issue #226, 3/1/02 Editorial: Losing Patience | SSDP "Souder Squad" Bushwhacks Congressman in Home District | DRCNet Launching John W. Perry Scholarship Fund for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions at NYC Event on March 26 | Oregon State Goes After Leading Medical Marijuana Doctor | DRCNet Interview: Sasha Abramsky, author of "Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation" | Bush Administration Peers Into Abyss and Blinks: Colombia Military Aid to Stay Restricted to Drug War -- For Now | Monitoring The Future 2001 Study Released: Mixed Results, Say Authors 226/israelidruguse Israeli Drug Use Up, Drug Authority Says: Maybe More Than You Think, Says Green Leaf Party | Prominent Anti-Drug Organization Criticized by Federal Agency for Bogus Underage Alcohol Findings | Weitzel Pain Case on Sixty Minutes, LP Ads Run in USA Today and Washington Times | Resources: Sentencing Project on the Drug War and Welfare Reform, GAO on Alternative Development, NIDA Marijuana Farm, International Narcotics Control Board | Errata: Vermont | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar
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