- Robert W. Gee American-Statesman Staff
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 by a former aide and days after fresh allegations of lewd comments to another former aide.
Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, whose district includes parts of Bastrop and Caldwell counties, 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 congressional office 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.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who spoke with Farenthold twice on Wednesday, welcomed the announcement.
“I think he’s making the right decision to retire,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “There are new stories that are very disconcerting. Unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories, and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we had.”
Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, was the third Farenthold aide to publicly describe inappropriate behavior in Farenthold’s office, in a CNN report this week.
Rekola said that Farenthold told him within earshot of others in the office that he should get his bride-to-be to perform oral sex before his wedding because it would be the last time. He also said Farenthold joked about whether his bride could wear a white dress, which Rekola took as a comment about whether she had had premarital sex. Rekola gave his two weeks’ notice soon after his wedding, according to CNN.
Farenthold denied saying those things, according to the CNN story.
Rekola also said Farenthold was prone to fits of rage and regularly berated employees, calling them “f—tards”.
Of the allegations facing Farenthold, Nueces County GOP Chairman Mike Bergsma said, “I think some of this may be that Blake and his chief of staff are tough bosses. There’s no crying in baseball.”
“I think it’s a terrible shame,” he told the American-Statesman. “He’s been a terrific congressman.”
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 Farenthold made explicit remarks to another former communications director, Lauren Greene, and retaliated against her for complaining. That came a week after media reports that he settled a lawsuit Greene brought against him with $84,000 of taxpayer money. Farenthold has since said he will pay back the Treasury with his own money.
Farenthold said he was not seeking re-election so that the primary campaign could focus on the issues and not the allegations against him.
“Quite simply, my constituents deserve better,” Farenthold said.
Farenthold is the fourth member of Congress to announce plans to leave office this month amid sexual misconduct allegations. Last week, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said they were stepping down.
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 re-election is simply not enough,” Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Crystal K. Perkins said in a statement.
If Farenthold were to resign before the end of his term, Gov. Greg Abbott would set a date for a special election. The seat would be vacant until then.
It’s too late, however, to remove Farenthold’s name from the March 6 primary ballot, said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state.
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 — nearly a quarter of the state’s GOP congressional delegation. The others include Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, who was embroiled in a nude photo and sexting scandal.