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April 26, 2018
Sean Zanni/Getty Images for NARAS

When Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) abruptly resigned earlier this month, the chances he would ever repay taxpayers for the $84,000 sexual harassment settlement he reached with a staffer, as he'd promised, shrank significantly. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has an idea for how he can fulfill his pledge. On Tuesday, Abbott used emergency powers to order a special June 30 election to fill the House seat Farenthold vacated, citing Hurricane Harvey to skirt state and federal election laws, and on Wednesday, he asked Farenthold to pay for that election.

"While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress," Abbott wrote in a letter to Farenthold's office. "I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election. This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th congressional district should not again pay the price for your actions."

Local election officials estimate that the special election will cost the 13 counties in the district more than $200,000, the Houston Chronicle reports. Farenthold, worth $2.4 million according to 2016 financial disclosure statements, is under no obligation to pay anything for the election or even respond to Abbott, and few analysts expect that he will. Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called Abbott's request "strange" and "unprecedented," adding, "The governor does not expect that Farenthold is going to pay the cost."

Abbott sought and quickly received a waiver from state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) to hold the emergency election for Farenthold's seat because his district was hit by Harvey and, Abbott argued, "hurricane relief efforts depend heavily on action at the federal level, which can only occur if Texans residing in disaster zones have full and effective representation in Congress." Peter Weber