- Nolan Hicks American-Statesman Staff
The Republican Party of Texas on Tuesday said it will drop its lawsuit to remove U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold from the 2018 primary ballot, after lawyers for the state argued they had no power to enforce the law that requires including the lawmaker’s name.
The move, effectively rendering the case moot, took place during a hearing that lasted less than a half-hour in the federal courthouse in downtown Austin. Lawyers focused on the state’s claim, which first appeared in a filing made late Monday night and effectively gives state GOP Chairman James Dickey the power to remove Farenthold’s name.
“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 attorney’s 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.
“It was obviously his intent to run for office at that time,” Cober 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 Times and CNN came a week after Politico and NBC News first reported that Farenthold used $84,000 in public money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit and that Congress had launched a new ethics investigation into the harassment allegations.
The Corpus Christi-area lawmaker — whose district includes parts of Bastrop and Caldwell counties — announced Thursday he would not seek reelection.
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.
He also admitted that disaffected voters in Farenthold’s district or a possible primary candidate could still sue and challenge the state Republican Party’s decision to submit an incomplete list of candidates to the secretary of state’s office.
“Those are legal proceedings that would play out in time,” Gober added.
The federal judge in the case, District Judge Sam Sparks, would still need to give the final OK for state Republicans to drop their suit. The judge who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin, suggested he would recommend Sparks give his blessing.
Under state law, political parties are required 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.
Farenthold withdrew from the race on Thursday after the filing and withdrawal deadline had passed, meaning his name would remain on the ballot, which left Texas Republicans in a lurch.
“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,” lawyers for the state GOP wrote in a filing.
The secretary of state’s office rejected the argument, saying that under state law, allowing Farenthold to remove his name would trigger a new extension of the filing period, which would complicate 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 in return. “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.”