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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.

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.

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