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McNeely: Nude photo changes Barton election plans

Dec. 6, 2017 at 10:49 p.m.


Heading into the potentially tumultuous 2018 election cycle, Joe Barton just became the seventh Texan in the U.S. House of Representatives to say he won't seek re-election.

His announcement came Nov. 30 — about three weeks after Barton had said he would run. While the decision is his own, Barton had more than a few nudges to quit, including some from GOP House colleagues. His reversal came after news exploded that a nude photo of him had surfaced on social media.

The other six House members not seeking re-election — four Republicans and two Democrats — already had said they weren't. More about them shortly, and about another Texas congressman who might face a sexual harassment issue.

Barton, 68, is the longest-serving of the 36 Texans in the U.S. House. He was first elected to the 6th District House seat in 1984 to replace Phil Gramm, who won the race to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. John Tower.

Barton got caught up in the unforeseen spillover from the sudden wave of sexual harassment allegations that has spread from movie, television and news media figures to politicians.

Acts long winked at suddenly became serious.

Barton, though not accused of sexual harassment in his office, provoked wonder that a congressman would be photographed nude in the first place and that it would show up on social media.

After the news broke Nov. 22, Barton said in a statement that while he was separated from his second wife, prior to their 2015 divorce, he had consensual sexual relationships "with other mature adult women."

While it may have been stupid, there's no indication Barton broke any laws.

So the question for Barton is not whether he's leaving — folks already are announcing for his seat — but when.

Some politicians in his rambling district in the Fort Worth-Dallas area and some news media editorials are saying Barton should quit well before January of 2019. Like, right now.

We'll see what he decides.

The others ... Four of the six of Texas' 36 members of the House who already said they won't seek another term next year are Republicans:

Sam Johnson, 87, R-Richardson, District 3. First elected in a special election, May 8, 1991.

Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, 70, District 21. Took office January 1987.

Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, 60, District 5. January 2003.

Ted Poe, R-Houston, 69, District 2. January 2005.

And two are Democrats:

Gene Green, D-Houston, 70, District 29. January 1993.

Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, 45, District 16. January 2013.

All but O'Rourke are taking a break from politics. O'Rourke has been campaigning hard all over the state for the U.S. Senate seat for which Republican Ted Cruz is seeking a second six-year term.

O'Rourke is hoping the potential backlash against Republican President Donald Trump in the midterm elections turns out to be real, and significantly increases the Democratic turnout.

Another might have problems ... District 27 Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi could run into unforeseen re-election squalls from new revelations about a sexual harassment claim from his office.

The online news outlet Politico reported Friday that Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle the 2014 claim from his former spokeswoman, Lauren Greene.

The money comes from the congressional Office of Compliance account. Farenthold, who turns 56 on Tuesday, said he couldn't talk about the charge and settlement.

"While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question," Farenthold said in a statement.

In 2015, when the lawsuit was settled and dismissed, he issued a statement denying doing anything wrong and was "glad to put this behind me and move forward."

Whether reheating the issue, and the indication the claim was settled with tax dollars, gets enough traction to affect Farenthold's re-election remains to be seen. He filed for re-election Nov. 11, the day 2018 filing opened. (It closes Monday.)

Former Victoria County Republican Chairman Michael Cloud filed Nov. 27 against Farenthold in the GOP primary — even before news broke of the settlement amount, and source of the funds.

"I think most taxpayers expect their tax dollars are going to better use," Cloud told a reporter. "If the allegations prove true, it represents a grave betrayal of the public trust."

— Dave McNeely is an Austin columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.

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