Five Republicans and four Democrats are challenging U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, who used taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former staffer and is now under investigation by the House Ethics Commission.
The embattled, four-term lawmaker came under fire after a Dec. 1 Politico report revealed he had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with $84,000 in government funds. Farenthold used a Congressional Office of Compliance account to pay Lauren Greene, his former communications director, according to Politico.
When the news broke of how Farenthold had settled the suit, he had only one Republican challenger who had filed for the March primary: Michael Cloud, a former Victoria County Republican Party chairman. Two Democrats — Eric Holguin and Rene Pena — also had filed. Other candidates were interested at the time but had not filed.
Now on the Republican side, Cloud is joined by Corpus Christi mediator Jerry Hall and former Texas Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun. Republicans Christopher Mapp and Eddie Gassman are also reported contenders for the party’s nomination, but their candidacy filings couldn’t be independently confirmed.
Democrats Raul “Roy” Barrera and former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald are now vying for Farenthold’s seat as well.
Greene alleged in her lawsuit that a male colleague told her that Farenthold had said he had sexual fantasies about her. She also claimed that Farenthold once told her he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years,” according to Politico. Greene also claimed she was fired after complaining about those comments.
Farenthold said he did nothing wrong but would take out a loan to refund taxpayers.
Farenthold’s challengers said they found his scandal troubling, with some calling for his ouster. But there are other reasons for him to be replaced, they said.
Cloud said voters tell him they want “pro-active leadership” and someone who isn’t just another Washington politician. They want someone “that can stand up to the culture of corruption,” he said.
“The key issue is when voters look at Washington, what they don’t see is a body working for them,” Cloud said. “They see a political class more concerned about being re-elected.”
Hall said he wants to see tax reform legislation signed into law, a border wall and for Congress to make improvements to Social Security and Medicare. He also claimed Farenthold didn’t do enough to help with the Hurricane Harvey recovery process. Highlighting the same issue, Bruun said the district “needs responsible, effective leadership now more than ever before.”
“My track record from the TWDB of having committed billions of dollars of water infrastructure throughout the state, with many of those projects being located is District 27, is proof positive that I know how to navigate government bureaucracy to get things done,” Bruun said in an email to the American-Statesman.
McDonald said he understands people’s values and would focus on “connecting people” to solve issues in health care, education, infrastructure and those concerning veterans in the district.
“It’s going to take all of us to work together on that,” he said.
McDonald said Farenthold’s scandal didn’t inspire his candidacy.
“I’m not spurred by one incident,” he said. “I’m spurred by a commitment to serve the people.”
Holguin said the race for him is personal because he grew up in a working-class family, the demographic he wants to help the most as a lawmaker. He said his campaign is focused on improving the lives of underserved communities.
In a district that’s majority Hispanic, Holguin said he hopes to inspire more millennials and Latinos to vote in higher numbers during the next election cycle.
“It’s time for them to step up and vote,” he said.
A representative for Farenthold could not be reached for comment.