Folks are usually talking football on Friday mornings in Ennis, where the high school team is a regular in the playoffs.
But the conversation changed this week with the shocking story of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton and the nude photo of him that ended up online.
“I think he should resign,” said Larry Hagan, a 68-year-old who graduated one year before Barton from Ennis High School. “What kind of message does that send to the kids?
“It’s not very good.”
Barton’s hometown is Ennis, a town of about 18,000 where Interstate 45 and U.S. 287 converge south of Dallas. It’s far enough away from DFW to avoid being called a suburb and has a rich history of high school football, drag racing and bluebonnet and polka festivals.
Barton, too, has long been claimed by Ennis, but the latest revelation has residents shaking their heads — some in disbelief, others in disgust.
The 68-year-old Republican issued an apology Wednesday for the photo that he took and texted to a woman he was in a consensual relationship with years ago, an image (complete with sexually explicit text) that ended up online.
While some are outraged by Barton’s behavior, others are not rushing to judgment.
“There’s not a single person in Ennis who can throw a stone,” said one woman dining at Bailey’s Restaurant, who declined to give her name. “Everybody has done something.”
At the same time, she did say she was surprised by the nude photo.
“Everybody has been talking about this,” she said. “We can’t believe it. Why would anybody do that in this day and time?”
Barton has represented the 6th Congressional District, which includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties, since 1985.
Barton said he doesn’t know how the photo surfaced on Twitter; it was posted through an anonymous account.
“I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days,” he said in a statement released to several media outlets Wednesday. “I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”
The unidentified woman he sent the text to told The Washington Post that she did not post the photo on social media. She has also said that Barton threatened to contact Capitol Police if she exposed his secret sex life.
She told the Post that she had a “secretly recorded phone conversation” with Barton who asked her not to use the pictures “in a way that would negatively affect my career.”
Later Wednesday, Barton issued another statement: “The Capitol Police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation and I have accepted. Because of the pending investigation, we will have no further comment.”
Another issue is whether Barton could be a victim of revenge porn, a crime.
Cases of revenge porn — when someone posts sexually explicit photos and videos of an ex online to get revenge after a breakup — have continued to grow with the emergence of social media.
Texas lawmakers in 2015 passed the Relationship Privacy Act to crack down on a growing number of revenge porn cases.
“This will help those who have been victimized by the horrific practice of posting a nude or sexually explicit photo on the Internet without their permission get justice against the cowardly perpetrators,” state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who wrote the measure, said in 2015.
‘It’s not our first scandal’
Many people in Ennis admitted that Barton and his nude photo were among the topics that came up during Thanksgiving Day conversations.
But by Friday morning, several longtime Ennis residents didn’t want to talk to reporters about the issue. The Ennis Lions were to play Cedar Hill in a Class 5A playoff game Friday night. And Black Friday was in full swing.
Some didn’t mind sharing their thoughts.
“I am not proud of it,” said Margie Wolfe, a longtime Ennis resident who has voted for Barton in the past. “I was surprised absolutely. I’m disappointed. I think it would be very good if he chose not to run again.”
Hagan, a Republican who has never voted for Barton, said he personally wasn’t surprised when news broke about the longtime politician’s nude photo.
He said he was willing to talk about the issue because he wants Barton to know how he feels.
Hagan, who was enjoying coffee with friends at the Ennis Truck Stop Restaurant, said he believes the photo will impact any future bid for office Barton makes.
“If he runs again, he’s not going to get it,” he said.
But the women down the street at Bailey’s Restaurant weren’t so sure.
One said she has repeatedly voted for Barton because she consistently votes a straight-party Republican ticket.
And she likely would again, even if he seeks re-election.
“It’s not our first scandal,” another woman at the restaurant who declined to give her name said. “It’s mild.”
A third woman at the table said she believes a number of people in the town would vote against Barton because of the photo.
The women did question why it was OK for people such as reality star Kim Kardashian to have nude photos online, but not others.
“This is just another politician who got caught,” the second woman at Bailey’s said.
‘Gross misuse of power’
Barton announced earlier this month that he’s running for re-election.
But speculation in Ennis is that Barton might change his mind and just retire at the end of his current term.
National Republican strategists said party leaders expect to hear soon whether Barton will step down, retire at the end of his term or seek re-election.
The filing deadline for the March 6 primary is Dec. 11.
If Barton were to resign from the seat, there could be a special election next year that both parties could target.
Republicans privately say that some within the community — including Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright, a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — are being considered as potential candidates if Barton decides not to seek re-election.
I was surprised absolutely. I’m disappointed. I think it would be very good if he chose not to run again.
Margie Wolfe, longtime Ennis resident
Already, Democrat Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran unsuccessfully against Barton in 2016, has filed to run for the post again.
“By his own admission, via his widely distributed apology, Barton confirms that his conduct was unbecoming a man who has enjoyed the support of the majority of voters for 32 years,” Woolridge said in a statement. “Not only did he provide his lewd materials to this woman against her initial refusal, but subsequently threatened her. This is a gross misuse of power and an unforgivable violation of the public trust.
“The men and women of U. S. Congressional District 6 deserve better. We can no longer allow Barton, other elected officials and those in positions of power abuse their authority and stature.”
Woolridge drew 70 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary during her 2016 election and 39 percent of the vote in the November general election.
Jana Lynne Sanchez, another Democrat who said she’s in the race for the district seat next year, agreed that it’s time for change.
“Our district was thrown into the national spotlight, but not for the reasons we want. TX-06 is populated by good people who build their lives here — despite three decades of poor representation from Joe Barton,” she said in a statement.
“The only reason Barton has been re-elected 17 times is that there has never been a candidate who was able to raise enough money, walk enough precincts, and who addressed the economic issues affecting the majority of the people in our district,” according to the statement. “I am that candidate, and now, we have the best chance in decades to replace him.”