Politics

Steve Southerland's Name Floated into Kevin Yoder's Sea of Galilee Skinny-Dip

By: Jim Turner | Posted: August 21, 2012 3:55 AM
Steve Southerland

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, is already expected to face a tough re-election bid. After all, his district grew more Democratic through redistricting.

Now the tide may have grown a little stronger, as he has to towel off a guilt-by-association label from a national publication.

Southerland’s name has been bandied about since Politico reported he was among a group of freshman congressmen who, along with family and staff members, took time out from a fact-finding mission in Israel a year ago to engage in a late night dip in the Sea of Galilee. The sea -- actually a freshwater lake -- is a Christian holy site where Jesus is said to have walked on water.

“Many of the lawmakers who ventured into the lake said they did so because of the religious significance of the waters. Others said they were simply cooling off after a long day,” Politico reported. “Several privately admitted that alcohol may have played a role in why some of those present decided to jump in.”

Neither Southerland nor his then-21-year-old daughter, according to the report, went so far as U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who made the plunge in full skinny-dip mode.

An Israeli police spokesman told Huffington Post that swimming in the lake -- as the Southerlands did -- is permitted. Public nudity, the police spokesman said, isn’t.

Southerland released a statement Monday that nothing inappropriate occurred, adding that efforts to “create a spectacle out of my participation in this trip” would be strictly to “score cheap political points.”

“Last August I was privileged to participate in a congressional fact-finding trip to Israel without any expense to Florida’s taxpayers. As a member of Congress, the visit provided critically important insight into America’s relationship with our close Middle Eastern ally," Southerland stated in the release.

“As a Christian and a father, the visit was a blessing for my 21-year-old daughter and me that we wouldn’t trade for anything."

While Southerland’s office has declined to further comment, insiders say he and his daughter never witnessed Yoder or anything that could be considered untoward occurring.

Nor was Southerland or anyone from his family or office involved in the FBI probe.

Yoder, 36, released an apology for jumping “into the water without a swimsuit."

"It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and [for] any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize," Yoder stated in a release.

Southerland must now wait to see if his Democratic challenger, former state legislator Al Lawson, tries to score those "cheap political points."

University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith said the issue may be fair game in the political spectrum, but added that the story would have had greater legs if taxpayer dollars were involved.

“It would be more of a scandal if it was a taxpayer-funded junket,”

The trip -- $10,000 per person -- was reportedly paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation, a group related to the pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who was among the more than 60 on the trip but was not with the group going into the Sea of Galilee, addressed the freshmen immediately afterward.

Cantor’s spokesman Doug Heye issued a statement that the matter was considered closed a year ago.

"Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future," Heye wrote.

Other lawmakers named in the Politico report included Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.

Quayle’s wife, Tiffany Quayle, released a statement to CNN that neither she nor her husband had any knowledge of the skinny-dipping incident.

"Ben and I and our daughter Evie were there together that evening in the Holy Land, although I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her," Tiffany Quayle wrote.

"We were neither party nor witness to any of the inappropriate behavior described in the article, nor were we a part of or aware of any inquiry. We did return to Arizona with some water from the Sea of Galilee to baptize Evie after she was born."



Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.



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