Monday's announcement that Rep. Trey Radel had submitted his resignation from the U.S. Congress sent shock waves through the 19th District of Florida which he served in Washington, D.C., for less than a year.
On Nov. 20, Radel pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession and was sentenced to one year of probation. He admitted to purchasing 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover federal agent on Oct. 29 in D.C. He subsequently entered a month-long rehab program at a substance abuse facility in Naples in December.
Radel sent letters of resignation, effective 6:30 p.m. Monday, to House Speaker John Boehner, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
"Unfortunately, some of my struggles had serious consequences. While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level, it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida," Radel wrote in the letter.
The resignation sparked reaction from colleagues and constituents in Southwest Florida, some of whom had called for his resignation.
"I believe it is the best decision for our congressional district and our nation, and I can't help but think it is best for Trey as well," said Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, who has been among Lee County leaders who had called for Radel to step down.
State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto also said it was the proper action.
"Today I want to recognize and commend Trey for making the right decision," Benacquisto said. "He has acknowledged that his recovery requires a focus solely on his health and the well being of his family. Trey, his wife Amy, and their precious son have been and will remain in my prayers. This announcement also makes it clear that Southwest Florida families will soon choose a new voice to represent them in Congress."
Benacquisto, the GOP Senate majority leader, said she is weighing a bid to replace Radel.
"I will consider the best way I can be of service to Florida and our region," said Benacquisto. "This includes talking to my neighbors, my friends, and my family to seek their guidance moving forward."
Several GOP leaders and Gov. Scott had asked Radel to resign, but he pledged to stay in office and rebuild trust. It is now up to Gov. Scott to set a date for a special election to fill Radel's seat.
Cape Coral's Gary Aubuchon, who served six years in the Florida House, will not be one of these candidates.
"No, but I look forward to seeing who will run in the special election and support my candidate," said Aubuchon. "I'm glad that now we can move forward on this issue. I'm happy for Trey and his family as they try to overcome this addiction. It's an opportunity for Southwest Florida to move forward and think about who our next Representative will be."
Former Florida House member Dr. Paige Kreegel of Punta Gorda filed the required paperwork earlier this month to run for Radel's seat in the next election, which now appears to be a special election. He ran unsuccessfully against Radel for the 19th District seat in 2012.
In announcing his candidacy, Kreegel said, "Our current one (Representative) is no longer acceptable for obvious reasons."
Former Rep. Connie Mack IV, who represented the area for eight years before a failed run for Senate, has been mentioned as a possible candidate. According to an Associated Press report, Mack declined to comment Monday on whether he would mount a campaign, but hinted at a possible bid. In a statement, he said Radel's resignation was "the right decision" and wished the congressman's family well.
"Now it's time for Southwest Florida to elect a new Congressman who will be a tireless champion of our shared mainstream conservative values," Mack said, citing his own plan for deficit reduction.
Upon returning to Washington earlier this month, Radel apologized to Republican colleagues and assured them that he had found a support group. Political pressure continued to build as the House Ethics Committee said it was launching a formal investigation of Radel.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) welcomes the news of Radel's resignation, but believes it is overdue and cited the timing of the announcement as suspicious.
"As CREW asked before, who introduced the first-term lawmaker to his drug dealer? Further, we know Rep. Radel shared his cocaine with others. Who exactly?" said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. "Given his short tenure in D.C., Rep. Radel most likely spent his free time with other members of Congress and Hill staff. The congressman's resignation should in no way derail the ethics investigation stemming from this incident."