WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resigned on Friday.
The decision marks the capstone of a tumultuous few months for the four-term congressman, who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.
"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," he said in a statement that offered no further explanation for why he was not completing the final eight months of his term.
The congressman spent the day packing up his office.
He previously announced his retirement in December, a move that created an open-seat race to succeed him. Former Texas Water Board Development Chairman Bech Bruun and former Victoria GOP Chairman Michael Cloud are in a Republican runoff to replace him in the two-year term beginning next January. Two Democrats, Roy Barrera and Eric Holguin, are in their own primary runoff for the seat.
Gov. Greg Abbott now needs to call a special election to fill the seat, the winner of which will serve until early January 2019.
Abbott has two options for filling Farenthold's seat for the rest of his term, according to the secretary of state's office. Abbott can schedule a special election on the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 6. (It's too late for him to call it for the May 5 date.)
Abbott's other option is to order an emergency election for any other Tuesday or Saturday. He would have to call the election 36-50 days in advance of the date he chooses.
House Republicans likely have no appetite for a special election at this point in the cycle. But one thing the governor's office will have to weigh is whether Texas' 27th Congressional District — which bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey — can go without congressional representation for seven months.
In 2014, Lauren Greene, Farenthold's former communications director, sued the congressman alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Both parties agreed to drop the case in 2015, but the terms of the settlement were not clear at the time. Last year, Politico reported that the little-known Office of Compliance had covered an $84,000 settlement to Greene in that case. Farenthold at first pledged to reimburse the federal government for the settlement cost but later became more circumspect about when he would do so.
But even members of his own party are pushing Farenthold to make good on that earlier pledge. Within minutes of Farenthold announcing his resignation Friday, U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, raised the issue in a pointed statement.
“I thank Blake Farenthold for his service in Congress,” Stivers said. “I hope Blake is true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement. As I have said repeatedly, Congress must hold ourselves to a higher standard and regain the trust of the American people."
Farenthold, meanwhile, faces an investigation by the U.S. House Ethics Committee over the harassment allegations, along with questions about whether he used official resources for his re-election and if he made false statements to the committee.
Farenthold first came to Congress in 2011, after winning a stunning race against now-former U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat. His re-election from then on was essentially assured when the Republican-led legislature dramatically redrew his 27th District and made it far more GOP-friendly.
His step-grandmother is Democratic state legislator Sissy Farenthold.
Farenthold served on the Oversight and Government Reform, Judiciary and Transportation U.S House Committees.
Reached Friday evening, Bruun declined to say whether he would run in a potential special election.
"I remain focused on the May 22nd run-off election," Bruun said. "I believe the people of Congressional District 27 need conservative, effective representation now more than ever, which is the primary reason I entered this race. I'm hopeful that Congressman Farenthold will honor his promise to repay the $84,000 owed to taxpayers so that we can close this chapter and focus on issues that matter most to the constituents of Congressional District 27."
In a statement released Friday evening, Cloud said Farenthold's resignation "illustrates the importance of having people of integrity and faith represent us in Congress."
“We’ve said all along that this seat belongs to the people of our district," Cloud's statement continued. "As a grassroots leader and long-time voter in our district, I know we do not want a representative who is part of the system, guaranteed to deliver the same status-quo results all too common from Washington."
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.