Agreement reached to keep Rep. Blake Farenthold off GOP primary ballot

Congressman Blake Farenthold in August 2015 at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. (Photo: Gabe Hernandez/Caller-Times file)
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Lawyers for the Republican Party of Texas and for the Texas secretary of state's office set the stage Tuesday to keep U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold's name off the March 6 GOP primary ballot.

In a hearing Tuesday in an Austin federal courtroom, the state's lawyer said Secretary of State Rolando Pablos would not pursue that matter further  if GOP Chairman James Dickey submits a list of primary candidates that does not include Farenthold's name.

Farenthold withdrew his candidacy for a fifth term last week amid continuing fallout over the settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit with taxpayers' dollars.

His withdrawal came too late, under state law, to remove his name as a candidate in Congressional District 27.

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Assistant Texas Attorney General Esteban Soto said although the secretary of state's office believes it is too late to remove a name from the primary ballot, the office is not responsible for enforcing the law governing candidates' presence on primary election ballots.

That is up to the Republican Party, Soto said. "The secretary of state's office is just a filing station," he said.

Chris Gober, representing the Texas GOP, said if the state was not going to force the party to include Farenthold's name, there was little point in pushing forward with the lawsuit. U.S. Magistrate Andrew Austin, who presided over the hearing, asked if the state would object if the GOP dropped the suit. Soto said no.

The discussion in court appears to end the matter,  but it will not be finalized until it is signed by a federal judge.

There was some back-and-forth with reporters over whether the agreement could be challenged either by a would-be candidate who might have filed if it was known Farenthold planned to withdraw, or by a voter who might feel deprived of the choice to cast a ballot for the incumbent.

Gober left open that such scenarios could play out, but called the possibility remote.

The GOP took the matter to federal court, saying it should have the right, in certain cases, to exclude a candidate from an election if the candidate no longer wishes to run.

“Congressman Farenthold has formally requested to withdraw from the race, and the party believes it’s in our best interest to accommodate his request and remove him from the ballot," Dickey said.

The GOP primary field for the 27th congressional district is crowded. Bruun and Cloud are among six challengers to Farenthold. The others are Christopher K. Mapp of Port O'Connor, John Grundwald of Houston, Eddie Gassman of Corpus Christi, and Jerry Hall of Corpus Christi.

Four Democrats  – Eric Holguin of Corpus Christi, Raul "Roy" Barrera of Corpus Christi, Ronnie McDonald of Bastrop, and Vanessa Edwards Foster of Houston – also are vying for the right to compete for the seat in November.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at John.Moritz@caller.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.