Texas Governor Wants ‘Emergency’ Special Election for Farenthold’s Seat

Special election must wait until Nov. 6 midterm under current rules

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, resigned earlier in April amid an Ethics Committee investigation into claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment within his congressional office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, resigned earlier in April amid an Ethics Committee investigation into claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment within his congressional office. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 20, 2018 at 10:20am

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to have a special election to replace former GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold as soon as possible, and he’s asking whether he can suspend certain election laws to do so.

Abbott sent a letter Thursday to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton outlining his desire to hold a special election soon and asking what laws he could bypass to speed up the process.

The letter was Abbott’s first public comment since Farenthold retired earlier this month amid an Ethics Committee probe into the congressman and his office for alleged sexual harassment, inappropriate comments to staff, and discrimination based on gender.

Part of Abbott’s rush to replace Farenthold stems from his desire to have someone in Congress to advocate for Hurricane Harvey victims, many of whom are still struggling.

“It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible,” Abbott told Paxton in the letter. “I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.”

Abbott wanted to know whether a section of the Texas Government Code that says he can suspend certain laws and take “necessary action in coping with a disaster” would give him legal cover to have an election “before the end of September.”

A special election for a vacant House seat shall be held “on the first uniform election date occurring on or after the 36th day after the date the election is ordered,” according to Texas law. 

The two uniform election dates are May 5, the municipal election date, and Nov. 5, the general election, Texas Secretary of State’s spokesman Sam Taylor said in a March email. Since 36 days before May 5 is March 30, the special election would have to be ordered no later than March 30 for the election to occur on May 5.

Farenthold did not retire until April 6, so the next special election couldn’t be held until the same day as the midterm elections, Nov. 6. The winner would serve out the remaining two months of Farenthold’s term before the winner of the midterm election could take over.

The governor has the option to declare an emergency special election that would not have to take place on May 5 or Nov. 6, Taylor said.

If the Abbott chooses to do so, he would have to submit a statement explaining the nature of the emergency. That emergency election would occur between 36 and 50 days after the election is ordered. There would not be a primary for a special election.

As for the midterm election, the 27th District is expected to remain in GOP hands. President Donald Trump carried the district by 23 points in 2016 and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

The Republican candidate would either be Texas Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun or former Victoria County GOP Chairman Michael Cloud, who both advanced to a runoff from the March 6 primary.

The primary runoff election is May 22.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.