State lawyers say they can’t stop GOP from nixing Farenthold’s name

7:37 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 Texas News & Politics
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U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi

The Republican Party of Texas managed to clear a path Tuesday in federal court for its chairman, James Dickey, to remove U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s name from primary ballots.

But as of press time, a party spokesman said Dickey still had not reached a decision on the fate of the congressman’s name on the ballot.

The drama late Tuesday came after a remarkable half-hour hearing hours earlier in Austin’s federal courthouse, where lawyers for the state said that, while state law requires the inclusion of Farenthold’s name because he withdrew from the race after the filing deadline, the secretary of state had no power to enforce that law.

In response, attorneys for the state party told U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin they would drop a lawsuit that sought to leave Farenthold off the ballot.

“It was not Blake Farenthold’s intent to game the system, to choose the successor or to even get out of the race at the time when the ballot period closed,” said Chris Gober, one of the attorneys representing the state GOP.

Instead, he said, Farenthold was driven out of the race by the media coverage of sexual harassment allegations and how he treated his employees.

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“It was obviously his intent to run for office at that time,” Gober said of Farenthold’s actions as the filing and withdrawal deadlines passed. “What sealed his political fate was The New York Times article that came out the day after the filing deadline closed, followed by the CNN article.” The stories from The New York Times and CNN detailed fresh accusations of boorish behavior on the part of Farenthold.

Farenthold’s exit from the race came two weeks after revelations that he used $84,000 in public money to settle a 2014 sexual harassment lawsuit. The House Ethics Committee subsequently launched an investigation into his behavior.

The Corpus Christi-area lawmaker — whose district includes parts of Bastrop and Caldwell counties — announced Thursday he would not seek re-election.

However, Farenthold’s decision came after the deadline to withdraw from the race had passed, meaning his name would likely remain on the ballot — leading to Tuesday’s court hearing.

While Tuesday’s hearing cleared the way for Dickey to pull Farenthold’s name, Gober insisted the state GOP chairman still had not made a decision.

But if Dickey decides to drop Farenthold’s name, it could open the door for a future court challenge. Disaffected voters in Farenthold’s district could sue over the state GOP’s decision to submit an incomplete list of candidates to the secretary of state’s office, Gober said.

Under state law, political parties are required to submit a list of candidates who have filed to run in the primary elections to the secretary of state’s office, which transmits them to county officials in charge of printing ballots and running elections.

While the law requires the parties to include the names of all the candidates who have filed, no enforcement mechanism gives the secretary of state’s office the authority to ensure the lists provided by the political parties are complete, or to penalize party leaders if they leave a name off, a lawyer for the state argued.

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According to the state’s brief, officially allowing Farenthold to withdraw his name from the ballot would trigger a new extension of the filing period, complicating efforts to get ballots prepared in time for the March 6 primary.

“Such an extended filing period, if triggered now, would exceed the Dec. 19, 2017, deadline to submit a list of candidates to the secretary of state and the Dec. 21 deadline to draw names on the ballot,” state lawyers argued. “It would also impede the already short period local election officials have to complete ballots before the Jan. 20, 2018, deadline to mail primary ballots to overseas military members.”

The state Republican Party argued in its briefs before the hearing that removing Farenthold’s name was possible and in the voters’ best interest.

“In instances where it is both administratively possible and practical — as it is here — the Republican Party of Texas does not wish to include the name of any ‘candidate’ on the Republican primary ballot who is not actually running for office,” its lawyers wrote.

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