Joe Barton’s fall from grace happened quickly. Last week, a nude selfie rumored to be from the longtime North Texas Congressman began circulating on social media. Barton apologized for the photo and text, saying he’d sent them to a woman he was dating.
This week, local GOP leaders began calling for Barton to resign. Then on Wednesday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published Facebook messages from five years ago between Barton and an Arlington GOP precinct chair. In the messages, Barton asks if she’s wearing underwear and made other sexually charged comments.
On Thursday, Barton announced he won’t seek another term next year. It marks an end to the Ennis Republican’s three-decade career in Washington.
Barton is the most senior member of the Texas Congressional delegation – but his long tenure didn’t stop the scandal from ending his career.
“I think that’s a good thing that he that he is not going to run again for re-election,” said Tim O’Hare, chairman of the Tarrant County GOP. “I still think he hasn’t quite gone far enough.”
O’Hare has been calling on Barton to resign. He doesn’t think anyone should be in Congress as long as Barton has -- and says the scandal certainly created a political problem for North Texas Republicans. But, ultimately, O’Hare says his call for Barton to quit is moral, not political.
“We should be able to look to these men and women and tell our sons and daughters that this is someone to emulate, this is a role model,” O’Hare said. “And we’ve just gotten so far away from that as a country. Enough’s enough.”
In a statement announcing the retirement, Barton didn’t mention the scandal. He said it was an honor to represent his district for over three decades, in which he estimated he’d cast more than 20,000 votes.
During a conference call with reporters, Texas Senator John Cornyn said he respected Barton’s decision to resign, and called Barton a friend.
“I’ve known Joe Barton for a long time and he has served his constituents ably for more than three decades in the House of Representatives,” Cornyn said.
'A reliable vote for conservative causes'
Jim Riddlesperger is a political scientist at Texas Christian University. He says Barton has been perhaps the biggest defender of oil and gas in Congress -- an influential member of the House Energy committee for years.
“I’m not aware that he’s created a lot of legislation but he certainly has been a reliable vote for conservative causes in virtually all the legislation that has come through Congress in the last third of a century,” Riddlesperger says.
When the tea party caucus rose to power in Congress, Riddlesperger says, Barton joined them, too. He says Barton was elected in 1984 as part of a wave.
“He was the kind of a young, energetic voice of the new Republican party,” Riddlesperger says. “And that generation of Republicans was the first generation that dominated Texas politics. Of course, up until then Texas politics was dominated by Democrats.”
'Bad for our brand'
UT Arlington political scientist Rebecca Deen says Barton’s always been a bit out of step with mainstream Republican insiders in Washington.
“I don’t know if I’d say outsider -- I would just sort of say cantankerous,” she said. “He hasn’t necessarily had the smoothed corners, the rounded corners that might appeal to a national establishment Republican party.”
Deen says she’s not surprised to see how quickly Barton went from a conservative in step with his conservative district to persona non-grata. She says the flood of high-profile sexual misconduct accusations against powerful men probably played a big role in turning the tide.
“I know of many many people who are strong party supporters, who work for the party, who will go out and knock on doors and all of that stuff who definitely were calling for his resignation,” Deen says. “And they’ll say ‘you know I like the guy, he’s good for our constituency, he was good for our district, but he’s bad for our brand now.’”
A handful of Democrats and Republicans have already filed to run for Barton’s seat. With the filing deadline still more than a week away, a newly-open spot is sure to draw more challengers into the race.
Our earlier story:
After the release of a nude picture and sexually charged messages with a constituent, Congressman Joe Barton will not seek re-election in 2018, his office announced Thursday. The Ennis Republican had been facing calls from local party leaders to resign since Monday.
First elected in 1984, Barton, 68, represents parts of southeast Tarrant County, including Mansfield and Arlington, and all of Ellis and Navarro Counties. He's the longest-serving Texan in Congress.
"I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office,” Barton said in an emailed statement. “It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice.”
Last week, Barton apologized after a nude photo that he’d texted to a woman was posted on Twitter. He said he was in a sexual relationship with the woman, who has not been named.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Wednesday published Facebook messages Barton exchanged with Arlington Republican precinct chair Kelly Canon in 2012 in which he asked whether Cannon was wearing panties and made other sexually suggestive statements. The two spoke regularly via Facebook, mostly about politics.
“He took it a step too far on rare occasions,” Canon told the Star-Telegram.
Barton's retirement means seven of the state's 36 members of Congress aren't seeking re-election.