AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Republican Party of Texas sued Friday to remove Rep. Blake Farenthold from the 2018 primary ballot after the congressman said he will not seek reelection following revelations that he used taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims.
Farenthold announced his intention to retire two days after the state's Tuesday deadline to withdraw from the general election primary.
The Texas GOP claims in a federal lawsuit filed in Austin that the state's election code has an arbitrary filing deadline that prevents it from removing Farenthold from the ballot.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Chris Gober of Austin, are Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey and Deborah Hovda, a Republican and registered voter in Farenthold's 27th Congressional District. The defendant is Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.
Farenthold announced he would not seek re-election on Dec. 14, after it was revealed that he'd paid $84,000 in taxpayer finds to settle harassment claims brought by a former aide.
According to Politico, other staffers complained of an allegedly abusive atmosphere in Farenthold’s office, in which he criticized aides and told sexually explicit jokes.
In their lawsuit Dickey and Hovda claim Section 172.052(a) of the Texas election code conflicts with a chapter of the Texas administrative code.
Under the administrative code, Dickey would have had until Dec. 19 to submit a candidate's name to the secretary of state. But the election code required the party chairman to file a withdrawal request for a candidate in next year's primary election by Dec 12 -- two days after Farenthold announced his decision.
Dickey says he received Farenthold’s formal request to withdraw his place on the 2018 primary election ballot on Dec. 15, and that he then “promptly forwarded” the request to the secretary of state.
“The effect of Texas’s incongruous statutory requirements is to disallow Mr. Farenthold from withdrawing from the race and having his name removed from the 2018 Republican primary ballot,” the lawsuit says.
It continues: “Through the operation of Section 172.052(a) of the Election Code, which requires withdrawal no later than the day following the regular filing deadline, Mr. Farenthold’s name will appear on the Republican primary election ballot against his wishes and in violation of the First Amendment associational rights of The Republican Party of Texas.”
Dickey says the Election Code through its arbitrary Dec. 12 deadline wrongfully forces the Texas Republican Party to be associated with Farenthold by his appearance on the primary ballot. “[T]here is no rational reason for why Mr. Farenthold’s withdrawal cannot be respected and treated as valid under the present circumstances,” he says.
Dickey and the Republican Party seek declaratory judgment that Section 172.052(a) of the Election Code is unconstitutionally overbroad. They also want injunctive relief stopping enforcement of the statute.
Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state's office told Courthouse News he cannot comment on pending litigation.
He emphasized that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit is a “constitutional challenge against the way the Texas Election Code is written, not our office’s interpretation of the code.”
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