It started with this.
The Republican Party of Texas managed to clear a path Tuesday in federal court for its chairman, James Dickey, to remove U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s name from primary ballots.
But as of press time, a party spokesman said Dickey still had not reached a decision on the fate of the congressman’s name on the ballot.
The drama late Tuesday came after a remarkable half-hour hearing hours earlier in Austin’s federal courthouse, where lawyers for the state said that, while state law requires the inclusion of Farenthold’s name because he withdrew from the race after the filing deadline, the secretary of state had no power to enforce that law.
In response, attorneys for the state party told U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin they would drop a lawsuit that sought to leave Farenthold off the ballot.
“It was not Blake Farenthold’s intent to game the system, to choose the successor or to even get out of the race at the time when the ballot period closed,” said Chris Gober, one of the attorneys representing the state GOP.
Instead, he said, Farenthold was driven out of the race by the media coverage of sexual harassment allegations and how he treated his employees.
Under state law, political parties are required to submit a list of candidates who have filed to run in the primary elections to the secretary of state’s office, which transmits them to county officials in charge of printing ballots and running elections.
While the law requires the parties to include the names of all the candidates who have filed, no enforcement mechanism gives the secretary of state’s office the authority to ensure the lists provided by the political parties are complete, or to penalize party leaders if they leave a name off, a lawyer for the state argued.
According to the state’s brief, officially allowing Farenthold to withdraw his name from the ballot would trigger a new extension of the filing period, complicating efforts to get ballots prepared in time for the March 6 primary.
“Such an extended filing period, if triggered now, would exceed the Dec. 19, 2017, deadline to submit a list of candidates to the secretary of state and the Dec. 21 deadline to draw names on the ballot,” state lawyers argued. “It would also impede the already short period local election officials have to complete ballots before the Jan. 20, 2018, deadline to mail primary ballots to overseas military members.”
See here for the background. By ten AM, a press release from the Republican Party of Texas had hit my mailbox announcing Dickey’s decision to pull Farenthold out of there. (Yes, I get press releases from the RPT, and also from the Harris County GOP. I’m pretty sure I can trace it to having corresponded with Alan Blakemore’s office to arrange some candidate interviews. The things I do for you people.) Following that, the Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit to prevent Dickey from issuing this decree, but they then dropped it after failing to get an injunction.
The Democratic Party’s short-lived lawsuit sought to test the Texas GOP’s claim that it does not have to associate with Farenthold at this point. If that is valid, the Democratic Party says, it should have the same opportunity to exclude primary candidates. If it is not valid, Farenthold’s name should remain on the ballot, the Democrats argue.
“Texas Democrats will not stand idle while Republicans rig the ballot,” Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Only voters have the power to choose who leads our state and nation, not politicians and party officers in backroom decisions. Last we checked, this was Texas not Russia.”
Yet there could still be legal trouble ahead for the party due to its decision to omit a candidate who filed and did not withdraw by the deadline. That’s against the law, Soto said in court, even as he made clear the secretary of state is powerless to stop it. Both sides acknowledged the party’s decision could still draw legal scrutiny, perhaps from a candidate or voter in Texas’ 27th Congressional District.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” Gober told reporters, “but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not.”
For sure, this smacks of the bad old days, when all the action in elections was in the Democratic primary and all kinds of shenanigans were pulled to ensure that the “right” candidate won. I’d like to know what a response would be to the TDP’s assertion that if this stands then nothing would stop them from throwing out candidates they didn’t like (and Lord knows, as we continue to be beseiged by phonies and LaRouchies, this has more than a small amount of appeal to me). I think it is likely that someone else will file a lawsuit, and it will be interesting to see how the SOS testimony that this withdrawal is against the law will be addressed. In the meantime, I’ll make a donation to the first legislator who files a bill to close this dumb loophole for the 2019 session. Stay tuned.