AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

Special election to replace Farenthold remains low profile

June 30, 2018 - 1:23 pm
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By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

AUSTIN (AP) — One might forgive voters on Texas' Gulf Coast for being sick of heading to the polls.

A special election Saturday will replace Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who resigned in April amid allegations of sexual harassment and word that he used $84,000 from a special House fund to settle a 2014 lawsuit stemming from them. It marks the district's third election this year, following the March 6 primary and May 22 runoff and preceding November's general election.

But all that voting hasn't raised the race's profile much. A look at the race:

SHORT TERM

The winner of the nonpartisan special election will serve the remainder of Farenthold's term expiring Jan. 3. That means joining a lame duck Congress for about six months — but only if one of the race's candidates wins more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Nine hopefuls — three Republicans, three Democrats, two independents and a Libertarian — are competing. If none exceed the 50-percent threshold, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will schedule a runoff in September, meaning the winner gets only about three months in office.

Further complicating matters is the regular election to succeed Farenthold for a full term beginning next year. No one won outright majorities during the opening round of voting in March, but the runoff saw former Republican county Chairman Michael Cloud beat Bech Bruun, ex-chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, while Democrat Eric Holguin topped Roy Barrera.

All four also appear on Saturday's special election ballot, though, setting up quasi-rematches.

RELIABLY REPUBLICAN

Farenthold's district is anchored in conservative Corpus Christi and spreads northwest to rural communities near Austin. Farenthold captured almost two-thirds of its 2016 votes.

The district once included Brownsville on the U.S.-Mexico border and was heavily Democratic, but Farenthold upset 14-term U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz during 2010's tea party wave. Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature then drew new boundaries that were safe for Farenthold — and probably for the Republicans now vying to replace him.

EMERGENCY ELECTION

Abbott declared that replacing Farenthold required an "emergency" special election, allowing him to suspend electoral law when setting its date. He argued that Farenthold's replacement is critical because the district needs a voice in Congress to fight for federal storm relief funding after Hurricane Harvey last August.

The governor said Farenthold should reimburse the $84,000 he got from taxpayers to settle the sexual harassment claim to pay for the special election — even though that wouldn't be enough to cover its full cost, which has instead fallen to the counties. But Farenthold, who has since accepted a $160,000 annual salary to lobby for a port in his former district, now says he won't be keeping his onetime promise to pay the money back, citing legal advice.

In addition to names familiar from previous ballots, Saturday's lesser-known candidates include Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who, as a Republican state elector in December 2016, shunned Donald Trump and cast one of Texas' Electoral College votes for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

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