Farenthold to speak at chamber of commerce luncheon

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold.

U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, joined a growing list of men made to answer for alleged sexual misconduct.

When Farenthold announced Thursday that he would not seek a fourth term, Victorians' reactions ranged from disbelief to relief.

"I was flabbergasted, to tell you the truth, because what I hear in the community is that he still had a chance," Victoria County Republican Party Chairman Bill Pozzi said.

Some contacted by the Victoria Advocate said they were put off by how Farenthold settled a lawsuit brought by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, while others thought he had been treated unfairly.

Greene, 28, alleged in 2014 that Farenthold, 56, told other staffers he had sexual fantasies about her, among other things, and then fired her for complaining about his behavior.

The allegations re-emerged after Politico reported Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle that case.

"If you're innocent, you fight it, and if you settle, you sure don't use taxpayer money," said Ron Kocian, president of Warrior's Weekend, a weekend fishing trip for wounded military service members.

John Clegg, a Victoria businessman who appreciated Farenthold's efforts to cut the red tape in Washington, D.C., saw it differently.

"I hate to see him go. ... When that incident happened, it was turned over to the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate it and deal with it, and they did, and it was not his final decision what to do with it," Clegg said about the settlement.

Because Greene has agreed to cooperate, the Office of Congressional Ethics has reopened her case against Farenthold.

Most Victorians interviewed by the Advocate on Thursday said Michael Cloud would be the next best choice for the district, which federal judges have said was illegally drawn to disenfranchise minorities.

Kocian said through Cloud's company, Bright Idea Media, he helped create a documentary called "Return to Honor" in 2011. He said Cloud has volunteered to help many times since then.

"I find him to be a very upright and outstanding young man," Kocian said.

Cloud's name recognition in the second most populous county in the 27th District of Texas will make him competitive in a March GOP primary when voters will have to choose from six candidates. None has a natural base in Corpus Christi, said Craig Goodman, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Farenthold's name will remain on the primary ballot.

Cloud's stiffest competition, Goodman said, is Bech Bruun, the former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board.

Goodman said voters can already see which factions of the Republican party are backing each candidate.

Cloud on Wednesday earned the endorsement of former congressman and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul, while U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, endorsed Bruun as the best man to get the Coastal Bend on the road to recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Goodman said endorsements matter in primaries, where there's a historically low voter turnout.

Ron Paul's endorsement is probably more meaningful because he has more ties to the Crossroads, but Williams' can't be discounted, Goodman said.

It suggests that Bruun has the backing of the establishment, of the business-friendly Republicans with deep pockets in Austin, he said.

The communications director for Cloud's campaign, Brian Cruickshanks, was quick to point out that many, including Bruun, jumped into this race after reports of Farenthold's lurid behavior surfaced and then piled up.

Cloud filed before anyone else because he "recognized there is a culture of corruption in Congress, and he had the courage to challenge it," Cruickshanks said. "Our district needs a representative with the courage and proven principles to be a leader in Washington - even when the road is not easy or politically expedient."

Farenthold's decision to withdraw was especially shocking because he took questions via Skype on Wednesday.

The Q&A was organized by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

It typically schedules one every month, but Farenthold's staffers in attendance Wednesday outnumbered his constituents.

During that Skype call, Farenthold spent just a few minutes vowing to repay the settlement amount and also said "there's no reason to resign when I haven't done anything wrong" before moving onto other matters, such as tax reform and net neutrality.

He said he had made the mistake of treating his employees more like friends than employees and had learned from it.

In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday morning, Farenthold made even more concessions.

He said he allowed "destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior in general that was less than professional, and I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself into angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserve. That was wrong. Clearly, it's not how I was raised, it's not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry."

Goodman said Farenthold likely changed his mind about running in the hours between the Victoria event and Thursday morning, when CNN reported the communications director who started after Greene suffered almost daily vomiting under the stress of working for Farenthold.

Michael Rekola told CNN that before he left town to be married in 2015, Farenthold told him, in the company of others, that he should get some sexual favors "before she walks down the aisle - it will be the last time." Rekola said Farenthold also joked his fiancee wouldn't be able to wear a white dress, a suggestion she'd had premarital sex.

Before CNN, the Houston Chronicle reported that a woman who took over Rekola's duties after he quit also recalled a hostile and sexualized work environment.

Goodman said Republicans have already learned something from Roy Moore, a Senate candidate accused of pedophilia. Moore on Tuesday lost Alabama to a Democrat for the first time in 25 years.

"I think they can clearly see now that candidates matter, and so having these allegations over Congressman Farenthold were certainly going to be problematic," Goodman said.

He said he wouldn't be surprised if House Speaker Paul Ryan and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers pressured Farenthold to withdraw, too.

Farenthold's not resigning, though.

The husband and father of two girls said in his Facebook video that he'll serve out the remainder of his term, a year.

He counted reducing the size of the federal government and reining its debt among his accomplishments.

In the Crossroads, some wished him all the best.

"The Victoria County Republican Women have always had a great relationship with Congressman Farenthold. We wish the congressman well in his next endeavor," the group's president, Nora Kucera, wrote in a statement.

Calhoun County Republican Party Chairman Russell Cain remembered him fondly for helping secure funding for the port in Point Comfort.

"I'm just sorry that things like this happen and that you don't know what really happened," Cain said. "But anyway, he has helped our area, and I know he will continue to help our area until his term is up."

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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