In a Friday afternoon news dump, Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, who was already retiring at the end of this term due to sexual harassment allegations by a former staffer, announced that he would instead resign, effective immediately. The news was not a surprise: Last month, Politico reported that Farenthold was considering an early exit in order to avoid an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into his behavior. Farenthold had also promised to pay back the $84,000 in taxpayer money that he used to settle the claims by Lauren Greene, his former aide, but as of early March, CNN reported there was “no indication” that Farenthold had done so, and questions to his office were ignored.
Farenthold’s departure means there will be a special election for his vacant (and safely red) House seat in the Corpus Christi area, though it may get consolidate with November’s regularly scheduled elections. That’s what happened in 2006 when Tom DeLay resigned his seat (prompting the infamous “Snelly Gibbr” special election), though he waited two months after his early April announcement before he actually quit.
Farenthold, of course, experienced a very different—and much shorter—career trajectory than DeLay, a fellow Texan who rose to the position of House Majority Leader and was known as “The Hammer” for his ruthlessness. Farenthold, by contrast, was almost an accidental congressman. In 2010, he issued a long-shot challenge to Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz for what had always looked like a solidly blue seat. A conservative radio host, Farenthold was a black sheep: He hailed from a prominent Democratic political family, and hardly anyone had ever heard of him until a month before Election Day.
That all changed—for all the wrong reasons—when Farenthold attracted national attention after a picture became public that showed him in duck pajamas with a scantily clad model from a group called “The Crush Girls” sidling up against him, and most political observers (including ourselves) thought this was the last we’d hear about him. But horrible Democratic turnout that year helped propel Farenthold to a shocking 775-vote win against Ortiz.
Despite his fluke win, Farenthold benefited from some extremely good timing. The GOP was in charge of redistricting for the next cycle, and Farenthold was given a redrawn seat that was much redder. Farenthold faced no credible GOP primary opposition in 2012 or 2014, and he soon blended in with the rest of the GOP caucus.
But things began to change in late 2014 when Greene publicly sued Farenthold for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, saying the congressman “regularly drank to excess” and told another employee he had” sexual fantasies” about her. Greene further accused Farenthold of firing her after she complained about him and his top aide.
Around that same time, the Huffington Post dug up several of Farenthold’s old online comments on a forum geared toward frequent fliers that spanned from 2006 to 2010, the year he was elected to the House. Among other things, Farenthold wrote, “Pregnant wife in [business class] with me in [economy] = waste of 9 hours of free booze. Pregnant wife in [economy] with me in [business class] = waste of 9 MONTHS of my happiness.” We also learned around that same time that Farenthold had owned a domain name called “Blow-me.org,” which his office said he would not be renewing (though maybe now he will).
We predicted in late 2014 that “Blake Farenthold’s problems may only be just beginning,” but we had no idea it would take another three years for them to come home to roost. Greene’s lawsuit against Farenthold was settled in late 2015, though we didn’t know taxpayer money had paid for it until late last year. The story disappeared from the headlines soon afterward, but when it finally resurfaced, it did so with a vengeance, prompting Farenthold to retire—though Paul Ryan & co. took their time in urging him to do so.
But while we’re glad to see Mr. Ducky Pajamas go, there’s one dismaying coda to this whole story. Last year, Politico checked in with Greene, who described how she’d been blacklisted from D.C. jobs for speaking out against Farenthold after she was fired in 2014 and says she hasn’t been able to get a full-time gig ever since. At least there’s a new position opening up in Corpus Christi.