U.S. Rep. Joe Barton — who has come under fire for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones he exchanged with a female constituent — will not seek another term in office.
One day after the Star-Telegram obtained and published Facebook messages that included a mix of politics and questions about whether the woman was “wearing a tank top only ... and no panties,” Barton announced he would not seek re-election.
“I’m glad he came to his senses,” said Kelly Canon, the woman with whom the congressman exchanged messages in 2012 and 2013 while he was still married to his second wife, Terri. “I’m a little disheartened that it took me coming forward to make him realize it’s more than just a (nude) picture — it’s a pattern.
“But I’m very relieved.”
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Canon is active in the Republican Party and said she and Barton had messaged via Facebook for several years, mostly to discuss politics. Barton indicated on Wednesday that he apologized to Canon, who said he did not but that she did not ask him to.
The nude photo of the Ennis Republican was shared before Thanksgiving, and he later apologized for it.
A number of high-level Republicans recently called for Barton, who is engaged to be married a third time, to give up his re-election bid after the photo and messages were made public.
The 68-year-old is not the first elected official to come under fire for inappropriate relationships with women. But he is the first to indicate he will not seek re-election.
“As a young Congressman, my slogan was ‘listening to you in Texas, working for you in Washington.’ For me that was never just a saying, but a commitment — a way of life,” said Barton, who was first elected to the seat in 1985. “Over the last 33 years, I have held thousands of public meetings and visited with so many great people in Texas on issues important to them.
“In Washington, I have voted over 20,000 times on the House Floor to hopefully make life a little better for the people in the 6th District.”
Barton will serve out his term, which expires Jan. 1, 2019.
Republican Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright — a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — said he will file to run for the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.
“Joe has been through a lot and he’s in my prayers,” Wright said. “I hope others will pray for him. But this race is about the future.”
Barton first drew national attention the day before Thanksgiving, when he apologized for the presence of the nude photo he had sent to a woman he had been dating. The photo of Barton was posted anonymously on Twitter.
“I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days,” he said in a statement. “I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”
Residents in his hometown of Ennis had mixed reactions to the photo, ranging from disbelief to disgust.
On Monday, a group of Tarrant County Republicans met privately with Barton to talk about his plans to seek another term in office. Several told him they didn’t think he should run.
Two days later — after Canon shared the messages with the Star-Telegram — elected officials including state Sens. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, expressed similar sentiments.
Barton said he was talking to family and colleagues. He was also waiting for the results of a poll that asked party faithful to see if his behavior and the nude photo would make a difference in a re-election bid.
Republican J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, a Texas Veterans Commission member who lives in Midlothian, also has filed to run for the post.
Several Democrats are in the race, including Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran against Barton in 2016; Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations specialist from Arlington; Levii R. Shocklee of Arlington; and John W. Duncan.
Texas Democrats were quick to weigh in on Barton’s decision.
“Serving in elected office is one of the highest honors bestowed on a citizen,” said Crystal K. Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “Texans are right to believe that public servants (on both sides of the aisle) should be held to the highest moral and ethical standard.
Filing for the March 6 primary ballot runs until Dec. 11.
Through the years
When Barton first arrived in Congress, Republicans were in the minority — and had been for years.
Once the Republican revolution arrived in 1994, “he then enjoyed the advantages of majority status for a decade,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.
During that time, a hallmark of his tenure was serving as chairman of the House Energy Committee for two terms. He once picked up the nickname “Smokey Joe” for defending industries against tighter pollution controls.
But many point to his work in the energy field, particularly the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that put in place the largest reform of the country’s energy program in decades.
Political observers note that Barton drew attention over time for work touching on helping families of first responders through the Wounded Officer Recovery Act, trying to block an autism bill in 2006 and piecing together Medicaid care for children who suffer from devastating diseases but don’t live close to the care they need.
“Congress has its workhorses and show horses, and Barton has always been much more the former than the latter,” Jones said. “Unlike some of his current DFW colleagues who occupy positions at the pinnacle of congressional power like Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions, Barton has in recent years played the role of the reliable back bencher.”
Barton was considered a “reliable conservative vote,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“Rep. Barton’s career has been what he’s been against instead of for,” Rottinghaus said. “He made waves challenging climate change, autism funding legislation or the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.”
In June 2017, Barton helped shepherd the GOP baseball team through a tragic shooting.
Barton, the team manager, was at the batting cages with his sons Brad and Jack before he walked over to watch one of the last practices before the charity baseball game against Democratic congressmen.
As he stood near the on-deck circle by first base, trying to decide who would be at the top of the batting order, the first shot rang out.
He and his sons were not shot, but afterward he was shaken and called for an increase in political civility.
If you have knowledge that someone has been sexually harassed or assaulted by a public or elected official we urge you to share your experience with the Star-Telegram. Contact reporter Anna Tinsley at 817-390-7610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.