Blake Farenthold, the Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Corpus Christi, Texas, resigned suddenly on Friday with eight months remaining in his current term.
Farenthold had previously announced his intention not to stand for reelection this November following the revelation that he had used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment case with his former communications director.
The check is in the mail
One of the early Congressional scalps claimed by the #MeToo movement, Blake Farenthold announced he would stand down this November shortly after POLITICO reported he had used taxpayer money in 2015 to settle a sexual harassment claim with former staff member Lauren Greene.
Before that announcement, however, Farenthold appeared for an interview on Corpus Christi television station KRIS TV. In the interview, Farenthold says, “I’m … going to hand a check over this week to probably Speaker Ryan or somebody and say, ‘Look, here’s the amount of my settlement. Give it back to the taxpayers. 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.'”
Paul Ryan never got a check, however, and a month later the congressman claimed he was waiting for “legal advice” before he wrote out the check.
Then Blake Farenthold resigns
In Friday’s announcement, Farenthold offered no explanation for the timing of his resignation. He merely stated that it was time to move on.
“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.
He also failed to mention the $84,000 he had promised to repay to the taxpayer. His Republicans colleagues were less reluctant to bring it up, however.
Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers commented within minutes of Farenthold’s announcement, “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”
Paul Ryan made it clear he is waiting on the check too. A Ryan spokesperson said on Friday, “Mr. Farenthold made a commitment that he would reimburse taxpayers for the settlement He reiterated his commitment to the speaker, and the speaker expects him to follow through.”
But while Farenthold spent Friday packing up his office, and found time to take down his social media accounts, there is still no word on the promised repayment.
Who replaces Blake Farenthold?
Besides the mysterious decision to suddenly resign, and the mystery over the owed $84,000, there remains one outstanding unknown: when will the special election to replace Farenthold be called?
By law Texas Governor Greg Abbott must call a special election no later than November 6th, but the winner of this special election would serve only in the lame-duck session between the general election and January. Meanwhile, on the same day, a simultaneous election would be held for the same seat from January onward.
Abbott can also call an emergency special election on any Tuesday or Saturday 31-50 days in advance. But it seems unlikely Republicans would be happy about a special election so soon before the general election – especially if like the recent Pennsylvania 18th Congressional special election it became a nationalized race siphoning off huge pools of money.
Former Texas Water Board Development Chairman Bech Bruun, who is running for the Republican nomination to replace Farenthold in the general election, declined to comment on a possible special election run. Speaking to the Texas Tribune, he said,
“I remain focused on the May 22nd run-off election… 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.