Congressman Blake Farenthold resigned Friday amid a congressional investigation into sexual harassment allegations.
“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” said Farenthold.
The news came abruptly months after the former congressman announced in December that he would not seek re-election − the same month the U.S. House Ethics Committee reported it would expand its investigation into a sexual harassment claim by his former communications director, Lauren Green. Farenthold became the target of criticism after paying Green $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a 2014 lawsuit.
Farenthold, 56, has represented District 27, which includes Victoria, Calhoun, Jackson, Lavaca and Refugio counties among others, since his election in 2010.
“I’ve worked to make government more efficient and responsive, cut government spending, repeal Obamacare, protect life and reduce the debt,” Farenthold said. “Most importantly, I’ve been able to help countless people, especially veterans, with their problems with the federal government.”
After his resignation announcement, candidates and Republican leaders called on Farenthold to follow through on his December promise to repay the settlement money to taxpayers. The former congressman made no mention of the repayment Friday.
Farenthold’s staff did not respond to phone calls for comment.
“I hope Blake is true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement,” said Chairman Steve Stivers of the National Republican Congressional Committee in a written statement.
Republican candidate Bech Bruun, who won about 36 percent of District 27’s votes, echoed Stivers, also calling for repayment.
“The people of Congressional District 27 need conservative, effective representation now more than ever, which is the primary reason I entered this race,” he said in a written statement. “I’m hopeful that Congressman Farenthold will honor his promise to repay the $84,000 owed to taxpayers.”
His leading opponent, Michael Cloud, a former Victoria County Republican chairman who won about 34 percent of the vote, said the resignation was proof of the importance of electing a representative with integrity although he made no specific call for Farenthold to repay the money.
“My message from the beginning is that our district deserves a representative with the courage to take on the Washington culture of corruption,” Cloud said in a written statement. “As such, I was the only candidate to enter the race even when it looked like an uphill battle against the entrenched incumbent.”
Democratic candidates Raul “Roy” Barrera, who won about 41 percent of the vote, and Eric Holguin, who won about 23 percent, said they were pleased by Farenthold’s resignation.
“That’s the best thing he could have done,” Barrera said. “All this time, he has not fulfilled his position.”
“I’m glad he resigned,” Holguin said. “It’s time we put this distraction behind us and focus on the issues that are affecting our district.”
A runoff election is scheduled for May 22.
Gov. Greg Abbott will need to order an election to fill Farenthold’s vacancy, according to the Texas Tribune. The winner of that election will serve until January 2019.
According to the Texas Election Code, a special election would be held on the next uniform election date − Nov. 6. Farenthold’s announcement comes too soon for Texas’ other uniform election date on May 5. The Texas Election Code requires a special election to occur on or after the 36th day after the election is ordered.
Abbott also has the option of calling an emergency election, which would be held on a Tuesday or Saturday on or after the 36th day and before the 50th day after an election is ordered.
As of 8 p.m. Friday, the governor had yet to announce a decision.
To get on the ballot, candidates must file petitions with at least 500 signatures.
Cloud and Bruun, who only issued written statements, have not said whether they plan to get on the ballot for a special or emergency election.
Barrera said he was considering it but needed to consult with his staff before making a decision.
Holguin said he was committed to getting on ballots for the 2018 general election as well as a special or emergency election and would run two “parallel campaigns.”
“Let the best man win,” said Bill Pozzi, Victoria County Republican chairman.