Lawmaker ponders future after Ashley Madison account revealed

Staff writers Kristina Torres and Greg Bluestein contributed.

Allen Peake

Age: 54

Home: Macon

Party: Republican

Political experience: Elected to the House in 2006; vice-chair House Ways & Means Committee; former secretary-treasurer of the House Republican Caucus

Key legislative accomplishments: Sponsored the medical marijuana bill that passed this year; successfully sponsored bills to create tax credits to rehabilitate homes and buildings with historic designations, the 2010 effort to ban texting while driving and the bill that created Georgia’s first Tax Court.

Business interests: Peake and a partner own eight Cheddar’s Casual Cafe restaurants across Middle Georgia and 12 Captain D’s in the Macon area

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Mercer University.

State Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican credited with the ground-breaking effort to legalize medical marijuana in Georgia, said Monday he will re-evaluate his political future after he admitted he once had an account with adultery website Ashley Madison.

Peake said he opened the account “several years ago” during a troubled time in his marriage, but said he told his wife about it more than two years ago and the two worked through their problems.

“There is no one to blame for this but me,” Peake told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via text. “No excuses. This was my fault. I’m just deeply sorry to have hurt my family and friends in this way.”

Peake confessed his involvement with the site in an 8-paragraph mea cupla to "close friends" on Sunday.

“It was stupid and I was an idiot for going on there,” he wrote in the email.

Peake declined to answer specific questions Monday about his account or why he came forward, except to say his name was on a published list of Georgia users of the infidelity website. He said he did not know who leaked his name.

Peake, who recently said he is considering a 2018 run for lieutenant governor, said he will consider whether to seek re-election in 2016. He said he has no immediate plans to resign from his current term.

“Realizing that as an elected public official I have violated the trust that is needed to hold such office, we will be taking some time to evaluate what action needs to be taken regarding my position as state representative,” Peake wrote in his Sunday email. “The public nature of this issue has been a tough road for my wife and children, and I hope you will wrap your arms around them with love, prayer and emotional support. They need, and deserve that.”

Hackers in August stole records of millions of people who used the website, which markets itself as a website to find other married people interested in having affairs. The hackers released the records and many websites have since downloaded the data to “out” users of the site.

One dump of the data yielded more than 15,000 e-mail addresses hosted by government and military servers, including a couple of dozen from Georgia governments. Four metro Atlanta governments and the Georgia Department of Transportation domain addresses were among those found in the lists.

Political experts said Peake’s electoral future is uncertain.

Should Peake decide to run for re-election next year, or lieutenant governor in 2018, he might find the electorate to understand his failings, Georgia Republican pollster and consultant Mark Rountree said.

“Political activists and operatives sometimes see people as single dimensional, good-guy versus bad-guy,” Rountree, owner of Landmark Communications, said. “But most Americans don’t view politicians or their neighbors or celebrities as monolithic-ally good-guy, bad-guy, and they know there are mistakes people make.”

Rountree, who has never worked for Peake, said the former treasurer of the House Republican Caucus, has already shown himself not to be a traditional politician by his work to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Georgia.

“He has already broken the mold in a great degree,” Rountree said.

Kerwin Swint, chairman of the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at Kennesaw State University, said Peake’s situation is precarious.

“It’s a big revelation of a personal nature,” Swint, a former GOP activist, said. “It could be survivable if his supporters feel he has moved beyond it. Many will see it as a private issue. But if it overshadows his legislative service and comes to define him to the public, it could make it difficult to continue.”

Gov. Nathan Deal, who named Peake one of his official liaisons to the House, said Peake’s admission should not impact that.

“This is certainly a matter for him and for his family to resolve,” Deal said. “It’s a personal matter, and I do not see it interfering with his position as a floor leader.”

Peake, a Macon native, and a business partner own eight Cheddar’s Casual Cafe restaurants across Middle Georgia and 12 Captain D’s in the Macon area.

Peake and his wife, Betsy Middlebrooks Peake, have been married for nearly 30 years and have three children.

Peake this year successfully shepherded legislation that legalized the possession of small amounts of a medicinal cannabis oil. Deal appointed him to lead a state commission that wants to develop ways to produce the oil in Georgia. Supporters of Peake's effort said his admission Monday will not slow their efforts.

“No, it doesn’t change a thing,” said Chey Wilson, who has gotten to know Peake over the last couple of years as the lawmaker battled on behalf of families such as Wilson’s in the state Legislature.

Wilson's daughter Ava suffers from a mitochondrial disorder and severe epilepsy. She and her mother, Jill, moved to Colorado in 2014 for legal access to cannabis oil. They moved back home to Columbus once the oil became legal in Georgia, a feat that has become Peake's signature issue.

“He’s obviously human. He obviously made a mistake and is dealing with it,” Wilson said. “It definitely doesn’t change how we feel about him. We owe a lot to him and I hate it for him.”

Deal, too, said Peake remains the best man for the job.

“He has demonstrated personal concern and personal involvement for several years,” Deal said. “He’s the right person to lead that effort. And the other issue is a personal matter that he and his family will resolve.”