Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, North Texas' longest-serving House member, will not seek re-election in 2018. Barton's decision comes amid pressure from fellow Republicans in North Texas and around the country after an explicit photo and suggestive texts from the congressman became public.
"I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office," Barton said Thursday. "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."
Barton was first elected to the House, where he represents portions of Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro Counties, in 1984. Two decades later, he established a national profile as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee during President George W. Bush's second term, positioning himself a champion of energy concerns and a strident opponent of environmental causes — leading pro-environment groups to derisively label Barton "Smokey Joe."
The congressman lost his chairmanship when Democrats took over the House in 2008 and has kept a lower profile since, most recently emerging to try to save the city of Arlington from a provision of the GOP's new tax bill that could cost the city as much as $200 million. Barton, longtime coach of the Republican caucus' baseball team, was also on the practice field when a gunman started shooting at the team, striking and nearly killing Majority Whip Steve Scalise. (Check out Jim Schutze's take on Barton's record.)
Last week, after a photo emerged showing a man who appeared to be Barton with his penis obscured but otherwise nude, Barton acknowledged sending the picture to a woman he was seeing while separated from his second wife, calling the incident "revenge porn."
"I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down," he said in a statement. While Barton's behavior appears to have been consensual, members of both political parties say he hasn't held himself to the moral standard required of elected officials.
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On Wednesday, Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O'Hare and state Sen. Konni Burton, a Republican from Barton's district, both said he shouldn't run in 2018. “We must hold public officials to a high standard, and recent publicized incidents demonstrate those standards were not met,” Burton said.
In her announcement calling on Barton not to run, Burton called on Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright to run for Barton's seat. While Wright has yet to make a decision about running, retired U.S. Navy pilot Jake Ellzey has filed to run in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, Jana Lynne Sanchez announced Monday that she's raised more than $100,000 in her quest for Barton's seat, more than any District 6 Democrat in 20 years, according to her campaign.
Crystal K. Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said Thursday that she's grateful Barton decided to step aside.
"Serving in elected office is one of the highest honors bestowed on a citizen. Texans are right to believe that public servants (on both sides of the aisle) should be held to the highest moral and ethical standard," Perkins said. "We’re thankful that Representative Barton chose to not seek re-election after reports of his deeply inappropriate actions and disturbing display of judgment."