Blake Farenthold won’t seek re-election amid sexual harassment claims

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold said Thursday he won’t seek re-election, a week after a House committee opened an investigation into sexual harassment claims from a former aide.

Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, made the announcement Thursday morning in a video statement on his campaign Facebook page.

He said the harassment charges that sparked the investigation are false, even as he apologized for a workplace marked by “destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”

“I’d never served in public office before. I had no idea how to run a congressional office. And as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” said Farenthold, adding that he often didn’t treat people with respect. “That was wrong. Clearly, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry. An unprofessional work environment is not a crime, but it’s embarrassing to me and to my family,” said Farenthold, 56, a former conservative radio show host who was first elected in 2010 as part of a tea party wave that gave Republicans control of the House.

Farenthold, whose district includes portions of Bastrop and Caldwell counties, met twice Wednesday with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was believed to be urging Farenthold to step down, according to The Dallas Morning News, citing an unnamed GOP official.

“I think it’s a terrible shame,” Nueces County GOP chairman Mike Bergsma told the American-Statesman. “He’s been a terrific congressman.”

Of the allegations facing Farenthold, Bergsma said, “I think some of this may be that Blake and his chief of staff are tough bosses,” he added. “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Still, Farenthold was losing support among some Texas Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, on Wednesday endorsed Bech Bruun, who resigned as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to run as a Republican for Farenthold’s seat.

The House Ethics Committee on Dec. 7 launched a new investigation into allegations that he made explicit remarks to a former aide and retaliated against her for complaining. That came a week after media reports that he settled a lawsuit the aide brought against him with $84,000 of taxpayer money. Farenthold has since said he will pay back the Treasury with his own money.

This week, The New York Times and CNN published new allegations of abusive behavior in Farenthold’s Washington office.

Farenthold said he was stepping down so that the primary campaign could focus on the issues and not the allegations against him.

“Quite simply, my constituents deserve better,” Farenthold said.

Texas Democrats called on Farenthold to step down immediately.

“Blake Farenthold should immediately leave office for his vile behavior, a PR stunt to not run for reelection is simply not enough,” Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Crystal K. Perkins said in a statement.

“Republican Blake Farenthold has no business holding public office. The fact is, Farenthold has violated the public trust and shown a pattern of demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful conduct towards women.”

Six Republicans and four Democrats are running for the seat.

Farenthold is the sixth Republican member of Congress from Texas to announce this year he’s not seeking re-election. The others include Joe Barton of Ennis, who was embroiled in a nude photo and sexting scandal.

Two Texas Democrats are not running for re-election, including Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Ted Cruz.

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