Finding the accused sexual harasser’s replacement has turned into a real problem for Texas.
Rep. Blake Farenthold resigned from Congress in April after admitting to using $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit (money he has said he will not repay). But this weekend, voters in Farenthold’s 27th Congressional District begin the process of replacing him — for all of about six months.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the special election to decide who will finish the rest of Farenthold’s House term on April 24, after consulting with the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, about whether they could schedule the election for the soonest date possible. He decided against waiting until November because Texas’s 27th Congressional District — which includes Corpus Christi and a wide swath of the state’s Gulf Coast — is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and needs a representative to help vie for federal recovery dollars.
But even though Farenthold is out of office, he is still managing to make life challenging for not just Texas officials, but residents of the 13 mostly rural counties voting on Saturday in an election those counties largely can’t afford. When Abbott asked Farenthold to use the $84,000 of taxpayer money he hasn’t paid back to help pay for the special election, Farenthold’s response was, according to Politico, not far from a straightforward “nah.”
“In my opinion, as well as many other county officials I have heard from, a special election was not warranted and should not have been called. However, that was your decision based upon the advice you were given. Since I didn’t call it and don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.”
Like with many recent special elections, the interest for national election watchers lies not in which candidate will emerge victorious but rather how much damage the Republican brand will show. Farenthold won his election in 2016 by 23 points, and the district itself is roughly 13 percent more Republican than the national average. Republicans want to avoid another runoff election and get the whole thing over with (and move past Farenthold) — but the field is crowded, and there’s a good chance this debacle won’t be over anytime soon.
Polls close at 7 p.m. Central time.
Republicans are desperately hoping to prevent a third election this year
There are nine candidates on the ballot on Saturday, including four who are also running in November’s general election: Democrats Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin, alongside Republicans Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud. Other candidates include Democrat Mike Westergren, Republican Marty Perez, Libertarian Daniel Tinus, and independents Judith Cutright and Christopher Suprun.
Cloud, the county chair of the Victoria County Republican Party, is the favorite in the race, with the support of Abbott, who said in a video endorsement, “With Michael Cloud, the voters of the 27th District will be sending a proven conservative to Washington who will represent their interests and restore integrity to the office.”
Bruun went hard after Cloud earlier in the race for his ties to the conservative fundraising super PAC Club for Growth Action, calling Cloud a “swamp creature” for accepting money from out-of-state donors via Club for Growth Action. But now Brunn has backed Cloud in the special election — potentially to avoid a runoff (or hand the seat to a Democrat).
But unless Cloud, or any candidate, can win Saturday’s election outright — with more than 50 percent of the vote — there will be yet another election, a runoff most likely to be held in September. In the meantime, Farenthold’s district has no representation in Congress.
In an email to Politico, Abbott’s deputy press secretary Mac Walker wrote that the governor was exasperated about the special election, too. “The governor shares the frustrations of the District in having to pay for a special election for a disgraced ex-congressman whose final act was to stick taxpayers with the bill at the worst possible time. Texans in the 27th Congressional District deserve better representation, something they have severely lacked in Washington D.C. for far too long.”