Embattled U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, will not appear on the 2018 primary ballot after a late push by the state Republican Party to keep him off.
The Texas GOP had until the end of Tuesday to send the names of all its primary candidates to the secretary of state, and the party left out Farenthold, according to the party. The decision came hours after a federal court hearing that cleared the way for his exclusion, though questions remain about potential legal challenges in the lead-up to the March 6 primary.
The drama began Thursday, when Farenthold, facing a series of sexual harassment allegations, announced that he was not seeking re-election in 2018. However, he had already filed for another term by the Dec. 11 deadline and missed the deadline the next day to withdraw. That seemed to cement his place in the primary, where he had drawn a half-dozen opponents.
But the Texas GOP sued the secretary of state Friday to keep Farenthold's name off the ballot, arguing the party should not be made to associate with a candidate who no longer wants to run. In the run-up to the lawsuit's filing, Farenthold had formally asked the party to remove him from the ballot, even though it was too late.
In a federal court hearing Tuesday morning in Austin, a lawyer for the state, Esteban Soto, emphasized that the secretary of state has no authority to force the party to turn over Farenthold's name as part of its list of all primary candidates. That argument led Texas GOP attorney Chris Gober to move to drop the lawsuit, which Soto did not oppose.
By Tuesday afternoon, the lawsuit had been dismissed. That opened an avenue for the party — in Gober's telling — "not to submit Blake Farenthold’s name and the secretary of state not to do anything about it."
Yet there could still be legal trouble ahead for the party due to its decision to omit a candidate who filed and did not withdraw by the deadline. That's against the law, Soto said in court, even as he made clear the secretary of state is powerless to stop it. Both sides acknowledged the party's decision could still draw legal scrutiny, perhaps from a candidate or voter in Texas' 27th Congressional District.
"It’s certainly a possibility," Gober told reporters, "but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not."
The primary race to replace Farenthold has been underway for weeks. A half dozen Republicans filed for the seat, including Bech Bruun, the former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and Michael Cloud, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee.