- Peggy Drexler: Freshman Rep. Vance McAllister caught in video kissing congressional staffer
- She says he ran on platform of Christian conservatism, family values. Hypocrisy will hurt him
- She says meanwhile staffer is out of job, but McAllister not resigning
- Drexler: A poll says voters think abuse of power worse than infidelity. McAllister guilty of both
When is a kiss not just a kiss? When it's a political undoing. On Monday, a Louisiana newspaper posted a video showing freshman Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister, a conservative Christian and married father of five, in an extended passionate kiss. In his government office. With someone other than his wife.
That someone, congressional staffer Melissa Hixon Peacock, also happens to be married, to a high school pal and campaign donor of McAllister's, in fact. According to payroll records, says Politico, she started working for McAllister the day after he won his seat.
Her husband, Heath Peacock, said McAllister "has wrecked my life" and that he and his wife are "headed for divorce." He also claimed that, by the way, McAllister faked his devotion to religion to win votes.
Certainly, it wasn't the most strategic of office affairs.
Though a recent Quinnipiac poll reported that it is politicians' abuse of power, more than their (increasingly exposed) extramarital activities, that turns off voters, by hiring a family friend on the taxpayers' dime and then getting romantic with her at the office, McAllister seems to have accomplished both.
But the bigger problem the congressman faces, and what could well lead to his downfall, is hypocrisy. People may forgive romantic indiscretions, but it can be harder to make them—or potential opponents—forget religious ones. McAllister, who had no previous political experience, ran on a platform of "faith and family," touting his 16-year marriage, five children, and pre-church Sunday breakfasts.
He described himself as a "true conservative" and called on endorsements from family members of A&E's popular and extremely socially conservative "Duck Dynasty" — the men among them known for being anti-gay and, as it happens, anti-adultery. McAllister invited Willie Robertson, the star of the show, to accompany him to the State of the Union address in January.
In at least one campaign ad, he asked voters to pray for him. Said Heath Peacock, "He broke out the religious card and he's about the most nonreligious person I know." But it apparently helped; he won.
Meanwhile, who is out of a job? Melissa Peacock. News reports say that she was "removed from the payroll" within the 24 hours after their embrace was exposed. While "there's no ethics rule that says you can't make out with your staffer," as the National Journal pointed out, House Ethics rules do require members to "conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House," and it's possible McAllister will face an ethics investigation. In 2010, House Speaker John Boehner asked Indiana Rep. Mark Souder to resign after Souder admitted an affair with a staffer in his district office.
McAllister has apologized for the indiscretion, sort of, but said he has no plans to resign. In fact, he said, he'll run for re-election next fall. That's not exactly an act of contrition; he seems more sorry he was caught than for damaging the public trust. Though certainly it takes two to tango, as they say—and we don't yet know details, including how the relationship started, or even if it has stopped — it's clear McAllister has different rules for himself than for others. And that for a guy with scant political experience, he felt plenty comfortable with using his position (and his office) for personal gain.
If he runs again, at the very least, he might want to rethink that whole "faith, family and hard work" message the next time around.
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