By Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Gov. Greg Abbott did the right thing for the people of Congressional District 27 by clarifying that he can call an emergency election sooner than state law would have allowed to replace disgraced former Rep. Blake Farenthold.
A special thanks, also, to Attorney General Ken Paxton for being expeditious in responding to Abbott’s request for an opinion — and for the answer being yes, Abbott can do that.
Abbott sought the opinion for all the right reasons. He pointed out that the people of the district need a representative in the U.S. House as soon as they can get one. As the governor noted in his request to Paxton, much of the district continues to suffer the damage of Hurricane Harvey and will be in recovery for years to come. And if he were to follow current existing law, Abbott said, the soonest he could call an election is Nov. 6, the day of the general election. That is, of course, the same day District 27 will choose its representative for the next full term.
It’s safe to assume that the laws governing a special congressional election weren’t intended to leave District 27 without representation for such a long period. The writers of those laws couldn’t have anticipated that on April 6, 2018, Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, an accused sexual harasser whose accuser was paid a settlement with tax money, would resign to avoid a rebuke from the House Ethics Committee, or that in August 2017 a hurricane would leave thousands of Farenthold’s constituents without their homes, their children without schools to attend, and employers without the businesses they had built.
Until the seat is filled, the office will function with its staff only, under the direction of the same chief of staff who was accused along with Farenthold in the sexual harassment complaint and who other ex-staff have described as abusive.
Having a governor who is a lawyer and former attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice turned out to be advantageous to his constituents in this time of need. Abbott recognized both the limits he faced in acting with the speed that the situation calls for, and the legal way around it. He could have shrugged and said his hands were tied, and been correct. Instead he untied his hands, quickly, with Paxton’s help.
Whether the two of them acted in concert or not, Paxton’s role in this is no mere charade. The logic that underlies his favorable legal opinion is clear and solid. No reasonable person should want to dispute that the governor should have or does have this emergency power. And no one who is reasonable should want to stand in the way of Abbott calling an emergency election as soon as possible. There is no defensible motive for further delay.
No matter what day the election, the timing will be awkward and inconvenient for the voters and the candidates, and there won’t be much of a term left for the winner to serve. Blame Farenthold for all of the inconveniences, including his choice of the waning moments of a Friday afternoon to resign.
Nevertheless, voters should feel motivated to vote and candidates should be anxious to run. The voters will have the rare opportunity to vote three times as of Nov. 6 for their District 27 representative — in the May 22 runoff, the emergency election and the general election.
All voters and all four runoff candidates should strongly favor the soonest special election date possible for the unexpired term. And any of the four runoff candidates who doesn’t want to run for the unexpired term isn’t really a worthy candidate for the full term. They all would risk that if they win the runoff but lose the emergency election, they may face the emergency election winner in November, or at least go into the November election having lost once.
Running for office involves risk. It isn’t for the risk-averse.