Texas GOP pulls Blake Farenthold off primary ballot, Democrats sue

  • Johnathan Silver
  • American-Statesman Staff
6:59 p.m Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 Texas News & Politics
U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, isn’t seeking re-election. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

The Texas Republican Party has withdrawn embattled U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s name from the 2018 primary ballot, but not without some more legal drama on Wednesday.

Farenthold, a Republican from Corpus Christi, had asked the party to remove his name from the ballot after deciding not to seek re-election last week amid a widening harassment scandal. But Farenthold’s decision came after the state deadline for a candidate to withdraw from the ballot.

State Republican Party leaders made the unusual decision to omit Farenthold’s name from its list of primary candidates submitted to the Texas secretary of state’s office after a lawyer representing the state acknowledged Tuesday that, while such a move would violate the law, Texas couldn’t force the party to comply.

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

“Our constitutional right of freedom of association allows us to do this,” Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told the American-Statesman on Wednesday.

Dickey said that, as party chairman, he was pleased to approve Farenthold’s request and looks forward to helping elect a “strong Republican” to represent Congressional District 27, which includes parts of Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

But then the Texas Democratic Party sued — briefly — on Wednesday to try to force Farenthold back on the ballot.

“Texas Democrats will not stand idle while Republicans rig the ballot,” Democratic Party officials said in a statement. “Only voters have the power to choose who leads our state and nation, not politicians and party officers in backroom decisions. Last we checked, this was Texas not Russia.”

U.S. Rep. Farenthold of Texas used taxpayer money to settle sex harassment claim, reports say

Even with six other Republicans running, including former Texas Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun, Farenthold, a four-term incumbent, would have by far the biggest name recognition on the primary ballot. A Farenthold primary victory could potentially sink Republican chances of keeping control of the district.

“This is about protecting democracy, not Republican Blake Farenthold’s vile actions,” Democratic officials said in the statement. “Farenthold has no business serving in public office, but the primary ballot is set and he failed to withdraw.”

Farenthold — who dropped out of the race two weeks after revelations that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit — said through his spokeswoman that he would cooperate in ensuring he remains off the ballot.

“The congressman has announced his retirement and is cooperating fully with the State Republican Party to ensure his name does not appear on the ballot,” the spokeswoman, Stacey Daniels, said in an email to the Statesman. “This election should be about the issues that are important to the voters of TX-27 like passing tax reform, securing the border and repealing Obamacare.”

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

However, a judge on Wednesday afternoon denied the Democrats’ request to temporarily halt the election process.

Shortly after that ruling, the Democrats dropped their suit, prompting a mocking tweet from the Texas GOP of a looping video of what appears to be a man tripping and a drug store display rack falling on him, with the caption: “Let’s check in on the @texasdemocrats legal team.”

“Today we sought court clarification regarding the deadlines on when a candidate can withdraw,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “After considering our application for a temporary restraining order, the court denied it but said it would consider the case further next week. Given that ballots will be finalized in the coming hours, we chose to dismiss the case and proceed with the election process.”

Four Democrats are running for the open seat, including former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

Farenthold is facing a House Ethics Committee investigation into his behavior, which include allegations by three former aides of harassment and lewd remarks. Farenthold has denied the allegations, though he acknowledged last week having had an office environment marked by “destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”

Statesman staff writer Nolan Hicks contributed to this report.