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Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t run in 2018 after questions about harassment settlement with employee

Farenthold denies wrongdoing but blames political inexperience for allowing “unprofessional” work environment

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas has announced he won’t seek re-election in 2018 in the wake of revelations about his use of taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former employee, which he said has become a “political distraction.”

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene, are false, but he conceded that his lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

In  2014, Greene, sued Farenthold for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

Farenthold’s decision not to seek re-election came two weeks after after Politico reported that the $84,000 paid to settle that case came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers. The congressman then announced that he would take out a personal loan to reimburse the government for the settlement.

In his Facebook video, Farenthold said he planned to make “meaningful changes” in the operation of his congressional office.

“I owe that to everyone — my constituents, my family, and this institution,” he said.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. He was already facing a 2018 primary challenge from Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun resigned from his post as chairman of the Texas Water Development Board to enter the GOP race.

Farenthold is the eighth member of Texas’s 36-member congressional delegation to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Joe Barton, Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama U.S. Senate seat

Jones defeats Republican Roy Moore amid allegations of Moore’s sexual pursuit of teenage girls

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has defeated Republican Roy Moore to win a U.S. Senate contest in Alabama, snatching away a seat in one of the country’s most Republican states and handing a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who went all in for Moore.

U.S. Senator-elect Doug Jones

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham making his first bid for elective office, took 50 percent to 48 percent for Moore in the December 12 vote, with the remaining vote going to write-in candidates.

Despite the Yellowhammer State’s strongly conservative tilt, Moore could not survive allegations that he sexually pursued teenage girls decades ago when he was in his 30s, which became public a month before the special election to permanently fill the seat of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Moore’s defeat, in a state where a Democrat had not won a Senate race in 25 years, also leaves Senate Republicans with a razor-thin 51-49 majority and increases prospects for Democrats to win control of the chamber in 2018.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Birmingham, Jones said, “I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don’t know what the hell I’m going to say.”

“We have been at a crossroads in the past, and, unfortunately, we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, you have taken the right road,” he said.

But Moore, addressing supporters in Montgomery, refused to concede defeat, saying that the closeness of the result might raise the possibility of a recount.

“It’s not over,” he said. “We also know God is in control.”

However, Moore’s most prominent supporter, Trump, offered congratulations to Jones on Twitter shortly after television networks called the race for Jones.

“Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory,” Trump said. “The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time.”

Jones will face voters again in 2020 after winning the race to fill the rest of the term Sessions won in 2014, which he gave up in February to join Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

In November, five women came forward to say that Moore, now 70, made advances toward them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. One of the women, Leigh Corfman, said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14.

Suggestions of sexual impropriety posed a special problem for Moore because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

He was twice elected and twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders on displaying the Ten Commandments and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — stands that made him a controversial figure well before the allegations of sexual misbehavior surfaced.

Moore vehemently denied the allegations, but virtually all of the Senate GOP caucus called on him to exit the race, including Alabama’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby.

Trump initially kept some distance from Moore, sending out surrogates to say that if the charges were true, he should leave the race. However, Trump eventually endorsed Moore and made robocalls on his behalf, saying the seat was too important to hand over to a “liberal” like Jones.

Democrats, smelling blood after the allegations against Moore became public, began pouring resources into what had been considered a long-shot race. Toward the end of the campaign, Jones’s campaign was putting up seven TV commercials to every one from Moore.

The Senate seat opened in February after Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Former Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to  the seat, but he was unable to hold it in a September GOP primary where he lost to Moore.

Former Florida U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison for corruption

Sentence brings ignoble end to Brown’s 34-year political odyssey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida was sentenced to five years in prison on tax and fraud charges related to a scheme to loot $800,000 from a bogus scholarship charity and spend it on personal expenses.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. D-Florida

Brown, 71, a Democrat who represented metro Jacksonville in Congress for 24 years, was sentenced December 4 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who called her behavior “brazen” and “born out of entitlement and greed,” according to coverage of the court proceedings by the Florida Times-Union.

Brown, who was ordered to surrender in January to begin serving her sentence, left the courthouse in downtown Jacksonville without comment. Speaking to reporters afterward, her attorney, James Smith, said she would appeal.

“The congresswoman wants to let her supporters know that she’s still strong and resolute, and she appreciates their prayers and their support,” Smith said. “She asks that they not give up hope because she hasn’t given up hope.”

Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, received a four-year sentence; the head of the charity, Carla Wiley, received 21 months.

Prosecutors alleged that Brown used her contacts and clout as a member of Congress to solicit funds for the charity, which claimed to provide scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. At trial, prosecutors produced evidence that the money was then diverted by Brown, Simmons and Wiley for their own personal use.

Brown took the stand to blame the scheme on Simmons and insist she did not know what he had been doing. But in May, she was convicted on 18 of the 22 counts against her, including including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing false tax returns.

When she was elected on Congress in 1992 after a decade in the Florida legislature, Brown became the first African-American to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Emphasizing her dedication to constituent service with the phrase “Corrine Delivers,” she would win 11 more times and become a political institution in Jacksonville. She even helped secure the funds to build the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse, the building where she was tried, convicted and sentenced.

However, in 2016, facing corruption charges and a new district radically redrawn by the Florida Supreme Court, she lost the Democratic primary to now U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

 

Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promises to repay taxpayer money used to settle sexual harassment suit

Report: Former spokeswoman who accused Farenthold of creating a hostile work environment received $84,000

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas says he will take out a personal loan to repay $84,000 in taxpayer dollars used to settle a claim with a former staffer who sued him for sexual harassment, even though he continues to deny the underlying allegations and insists he only used tax dollars because he was required to do so.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” Farenthold told Corpus Christi TV station KRIS.

In  2014, Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, sued him for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer.

The Office of Congressional Ethics cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015. He was re-elected in 2016 after the charges and the settlement had been publicly disclosed.

However, the settlement came under renewed scrutiny after Politico reported on December 1 that the money paid to Greene came from the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that handles sexual harassment complaints by congressional staffers.

Farenthold had initially issued a statement saying he couldn’t comment on the settlement because of a confidentiality agreement, but he later told KRIS that he believed he was required to pay Greene with Office of Compliance money, although he now says he will “hand a check” to House Speaker Paul Ryan to reimburse the government.

Farenthold, 55, was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 to represent the 27th District, which sprawls across the Texas Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston. OpenSecrets.org, which tracks the financial assets of members of Congress based on their financial disclosure reports, estimated Farenthold’s net worth at $6 million in 2016.

The revelations about Farenthold have been an unwelcome distraction for House Republicans, who have been pressing for the resignation of Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan for settling a sexual harassment lawsuit with money taken out of his House office budget.

Even before the details surrounding the details of Farenthold’s settlement came to light, he was already being challenged in the GOP primary by Michael Cloud, the Republican chairman in Victoria County. After the Politico story was published, Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, told the Texas Tribune that he was also considering challenging Farenthold and that “it is a sad day when an elected official uses taxpayer money to settle a claim of sexual harassment.”

Texas’s unusually early March primary means that the filing deadline for party primaries is December 11. In addition, the 27th is one of three Texas U.S. House districts struck down in March by a panel of federal judges for improper gerrymandering of Latino voters, which could result in changes being made to the district before next year’s congressional elections.

Texas U.S. Rep. Joe Barton announces retirement from Congress amid flap over nude photos

Barton’s departure sets up competitive race for GOP-held seat in metro Dallas

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DALLAS (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, the dean of the Texas House delegation, has announced he will not seek re-election in 2018, a week after acknowledging that he exchanged a nude photograph of himself with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship — a photo which wound up on social media.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas

Barton, 68, who has served in Congress since 1985, told the Dallas Morning News that “there are enough people who lost faith in me that it’s time to step aside.” He said that while he still thinks he could win re-election in the 6th District, “it would be a nasty campaign, a difficult campaign for my family.”

Barton also stressed to the News that unlike a number of other politicians recently ensnared in sex scandals, his conduct was entirely consensual: “I am not guilty of sexual harassment.”

The controversy now ending Barton’s career began when a nude photo purportedly of him began circulating on Twitter, and a woman who said she had a sexual relationship with him told the Washington Post that he had threatened to contact the U.S. Capitol Police if she disseminated the photo.

The woman told the Post that she did not send the photo out on Twitter, and it remains unclear who is responsible.

After the Post story, Barton issued a statement in which he admitting having consensual sexual relationships with other women while separated from his second wife, prior to their divorce in 2015.

“Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down,” he said in the statement. Barton has also said that police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the release of the photo.

Barton’s departure creates a sudden, unexpected opening that will likely draw a crowd of aspiring congressmen, particularly on the Republican side. The 6th District takes a swath of suburbs between Dallas and Ft. Worth, plus Ellis and Navarro counties to the South.

While the district leans Republican, the tilt is not overwhelmingly so — Barton carried it with 58 percent of the vote in 2016, and Donald Trump took just 54 percent. Five Democrats are already running for the seat.

Barton, who is currently the longest-serving member of the Texas delegation, becomes the seventh Texas U.S. House member to forego re-election in 2018, joining Republicans Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling and Lamar Smith and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Gene Green.

All except O’Rourke are leaving Congress; he is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Retired Marine Corps general launches write-in campaign in Alabama U.S. Senate race

Report: Democrat Doug Jones outspending Republican Roy Moore 7-to-1 on TV

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Just two weeks before a special election to pick Alabama’s next U.S. Senator, Lee Busby, a retired Marine Corps colonel and one-time aide to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, has launched a last-minute write-in bid for the seat as an independent.

In another development in the race, Democrat Doug Jones’s campaign has outspent embattled Republican nominee Roy Moore by a whopping 7-to-1 margin on television ads in his quest to become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 25 years, according to a report in Politico.

Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Lee Busby

Busby told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he got into the race because he was dissatisfied with choosing between Moore, who has been accused of sexually pursuing teenage girls, and Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham making his first bid for political office.

“I felt like there was a lot of people in Alabama who felt like me,” Busby told the network. “The more I talked to [people], the more sense I got that there was this huge swath in the middle that feels like they’re not represented.”

Since announcing his write-in candidacy on November 27, Busby said he has been the target of a deluge of criticism on social media from Moore supporters angered by his candidacy.

“I’m either a Democratic agent or a lackey of [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell,” he said.

Busby told MSNBC that he is a registered Republican but did not support Moore during the GOP primary, well before the sexual pursuit allegations surfaced.

“I don’t know Roy Moore. I’ve never met him. But there’s a sense of self-righteousness that comes out of that campaign that bothered me, and I don’t think it represents the majority of Alabama voters,” he said.

Busby, who lives in Tuscaloosa, served 31 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Reserve, reaching the rank of colonel. After leaving the military, he has focused on his work as a sculptor, creating memorial busts of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While in the military, Busby served as vice chief of staff to Kelly, the retired Marine general who is now Trump’s chief of staff.

Since allegations against Moore became public on November 9, Trump has refused to condemn him, instead offering pointed criticism of Jones on Twitter. However, the president has so far stopped short of traveling to Alabama to campaign with his party’s nominee.

By contrast, McConnell and most of the Republicans in the Senate have called on Moore to exit the race, even though the deadline had passed to remove his name from the ballot.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Five women have come forward to say that Moore, now 70, made advances toward them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. One of the women, Leigh Corfman, said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14.

Moore has denied the allegations and resisted pressure from Republicans to drop out of the race.

The most recent public polls, taken before Busby’s entry, have shown the race between Jones and Moore within the margin of error, which means that the polls can’t offer a conclusion as to which man is ahead. The competitiveness of the race is shocking sight in Alabama, where Republican Richard Shelby won by 28 points in 2016 and Democrats didn’t even run anybody against Republican Jeff Sessions in 2014.

Just as shocking is the disparity on the TV airwaves, with Jones airing more than 10,000 ads since the primary, compared to just 1,000 for Moore, according to figures compiled by Advertising Analytics and reported by Politico.

National Democrats had been wary of putting resources into the long-shot Alabama race, but money began pouring into Jones’s campaign after Moore won the GOP primary and the allegations against him surfaced.

The special election to fill the Senate seat is December 12.

The Alabama seat became vacant in February, when Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general. Republican Luther Strange was appointed to fill the seat but failed to hold it when Moore challenged him in the GOP primary to pick a nominee for a special election to elect a permanent replacement.

Moore was a controversial figure even before the allegations about his alleged sexual pursuit of teenage girls surfaced. He was twice elected as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and removed both times, first for defying a federal  judge’s order to remove a 10 Commandments display at the state judicial building in Montgomery and then for encouraging local officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating marriage equality.

In 2006 and 2010, he ran poorly in GOP primaries for governor. But in the special election, he was able to parlay unhappiness with the Republican establishment in Washington into a win over Strange, who was backed by Trump and McConnell.

Watch Busby’s full interview with MSNBC:

McConnell: I believe Roy Moore’s accusers

Head of Senate GOP campaign arm says Moore should be expelled; fifth woman alleges sexual misconduct

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes the women who have come forward to accuse Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, while the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm says Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins a December special election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

“I believe the women, yes, ” McConnell told reporters after attending a tax reform event November 12 in Louisville. “I think he should step aside.”

McConnell also said Republican leaders are looking into the feasibility of supporting a write-in candidate in the race, although he was non-committal on whether that candidate would be the man Moore defeated in the Republican primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, took to Twitter to suggest that Republican senators might refuse to let Moore take his seat in the Senate even if he wins.

“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore fired back on Twitter: “The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced.”

GOP leaders are in a difficult spot. The deadline has passed for replacing Moore on the ballot, so, if he withdraws, the only option for Republicans to win would be a write-in campaign. However, if he refuses to go, a write-in campaign could split the Republican vote and clear the way for Democrat Doug Jones to win. And that would cut the GOP majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Strange, who has been filling the seat on a temporary basis since February, would be problematic as a write-in candidate because he lost to Moore in September after an acrimonious primary, leaving him an unlikely figure to unify Republicans in a battle against Jones.

Even as Republican leaders grappled over how to deal with Moore, a fifth woman came forward to allege that Moore tried to force himself on her when she was just 16 and he was a local prosecutor in Alabama. Beverly Young Nelson said she managed to fight off Moore’s advances after he offered her a ride home from a restaurant where she worked.

On November 9, The Washington Post published an allegation from another woman, Leigh Corfman, who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14 and he was 32. Three other women also told the Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers, although none of those women allege that any sexual contact beyond kissing took place.

Moore has strenuously denied the allegations, insisting that they are a politically motivated attack to keep him out of the Senate.

“We do not intend to let the Democrats, or establishment Republicans or anybody else behind this story stop this campaign.” Moore during an appearance at a Veteran’s Day event where he addressed the allegations. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”

Suggestions of sexual impropriety pose a special problem for Moore, 70, because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

He was twice elected and removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders to stop displaying the Ten Commandments on public property and encouraging local officials not to license same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized them.

The allegations have further eroded Moore’s already shaky relationship with fellow Republicans in the Senate, all of whom backed Strange in the primary. Given the current climate of heightened sensitivity to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Republicans have been quick to put daylight between themselves and Moore.

However, Moore — who twice put his job as chief justice on the line to defy federal courts — is unlikely to heed calls to step aside, especially coming from McConnell. Moore has said loudly and often that he would vote against McConnell as Republican leader if he gets to Washington.

The imbroglio surrounding Moore marks the second time in a year that a sex scandal has rocked politics in the Yellowhammer State.

In April, former Governor Robert Bentley resigned under threat of impeachment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide.

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after Bentley resigned, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year. Moore went on to defeat Strange in a September primary runoff.

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