For the first time in three decades, voters in the 6th Congressional District won't see Joe Barton's name on the ballot this year.
And that's just fine with nearly a dozen Republicans who hope to replace the longtime retiring congressman as the Republican Party's nominee for that post.
"This is the first time in a generation we can elect a new member of Congress from this district," said J.K. "Jake" Ellzey, one of 11 Republicans in the GOP primary race. "People should educate themselves."
The Republicans, along with five Democrats, all hope to win their party's nomination in the March 6 primary and make it to the November general ballot, giving them a fair shot at replacing Barton, who has represented this district since 1985.
"It makes sense that there would be a lot of interest ... given that Barton has been in office for so long," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
He believes the district will stay in the R column come November, but notes that "open seats sometimes see a big swing to the other party in midterm wave years, though, so I don’t think one can totally rule out the Democrats making a play here if the cycle breaks in their favor. "
At stake is a two-year term that pays $174,000 a year representing a district that includes part of east and southwest Fort Worth, most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.
Barton — who came under fire last year for a nude photo shared online and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent — announced in November that he would not seek another term in office.
There are 11 Republicans in the race — J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, Deborah Gagliardi, Ron Wright, Mark Mitchell, Troy Ratterree, Mel Hassell, Shawn Dandridge, Kevin Harrison, Ken Cope, Shannon Dubberly and Thomas Dillingham.
The winner will face off against the winner of the Democratic primary. In that race, five candidates — Ruby Faye Woolridge, Jana Lynne Sanchez, Levii R. Shocklee, John W. Duncan and Justin Snider — are seeking their party's nomination.
Early voting for the March 6 primary runs from Tuesday to March 2.
Here's a look at the Republicans in this race.
Two of the highest-profile Republicans in this race are Wright, the 64-year-old Tarrant County tax assessor-collector who once worked for Barton, and Ellzey, a 48-year-old retired Navy pilot.
Wright, of Arlington, has a lengthy public service resume and said he wants to continue his work in Congress.
"CD 6 has been my home for over 40 years and I have served as a volunteer, city councilman and tax assessor-collector," Wright said. "My record includes standing up for property rights, the precious right to life and against raising taxes. I understand the needs of the people of CD 6 and will fight for them in Washington."
Now in his second term as the county's tax assessor-collector, he had to resign the post to seek the congressional seat but will serve until a replacement is elected.
Through the years, Wright — who served four terms on the Arlington City Council before working in Barton's office — has made headlines for referring to Hitler while cutting ties to the United Way and adding the motto, "In God We Trust" to county documents. If elected, his top priorities would include securing the border, immigration reform, tax reform and preserving life and liberty.
He picked up a slew of endorsements, including those from state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville; several local House members; Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams; and Tarrant County officials such as Judge Glen Whitley, Sheriff Bill Waybourn and District Attorney Sharen Wilson.
Ellzey, an airline pilot and small-business owner from Midlothian, said he has been called to public service his entire life and being elected to this post is another way to continue that work.
Key issues in this race, he said, include border security, veteran care, illegal immigration, national security and "the unelected bureaucracy which stifles our economy."
If elected, he wants to make sure "the voters know I serve only them and establish a reputation of honor and dignity in my conduct in the Capitol," as well as working to restore "faith in Congress."
He said he has "a lifetime of public service and a dedication to giving back to the country which I'm blessed to live in."
Ellzey, a member of the Texas Veterans Commission who unsuccessfully ran for the Texas House District 10 seat in 2014, has been endorsed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "Jake will serve with honor and dignity as a congressman for the 6th District," Perry said. "And he will legislate according to the original intent of the Founding Fathers."
A recent report showed that Ellzey failed to file a personal financial statement with the House Ethics Committee on time. “I am not a politician, and that is evident of me not getting this paperwork done on time,” Ellzey told InsideSources. “I dropped the ball on this one. It’s entirely my responsibility and entirely my fault. We will owe a $200 late filing fee.”
Mitchell, a 62-year-old doctor, attorney, homebuilder and small-business owner from Fort Worth, is making his fifth bid for public office because he's frustrated with what's going on in Washington.
"As a medical doctor, I understand public service, the healthcare industry and insurance.," he said. "I know the ins and outs of medical practice. I also have been trained in health policy and grasp the dilemmas of healthcare policy questions and solutions to the complex issues. We need to repeal Obamacare, but if that does not happen, I know how to fix the healthcare problem."
He said key issues in this race include whether voters want truly conservative leadership or politics as usual.
"I am a fighter and will fight for the conservative values of the people of District 6," he said. "Politics-as-usual and career politicians have brought us to this place at this time. Washington, as usual, the government shutdown and the corruption and dissension of our legislators is disgusting. They should be ashamed of wasting our time and dollars."
Cope, a 64-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel and retired aerospace executive from Arlington, said he's in the race to give voters a real choice. In 2014, he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate.
"The people of Congressional District 6 have not been served well in recent years because an entrenched incumbent stopped devoting himself to their best interests," he said. "I will serve their interests and pledge to term-limit myself, if elected, to a maximum of three terms, or six years."
Key issues in the race, he said, include the Texas high-speed rail bullet train project, which he calls a "boondoggle" that could "rip apart Ellis and Navarro counties and will adversely affect Tarrant County taxpayers as well." And if elected, he said a top goal is passing legislation "that would require all members of Congress to be subject in every way to the same laws that apply to every other American. People are tired of seeing our elected officials hold themselves above the rest of us."
Gagliardi, a 56-year-old engineer/contractor/architect from Arlington, has been a longtime critic of Barton.
"I have been appalled that so many accepted his sexting of women for years," said Gagliardi, a precinct chair for nearly 20 years and past unsuccessful Arlington City Council candidate. "It was common knowledge. The fact that he reached out prior to the story hitting the press to pass the baton is even more offensive. The enabling of the abuse is not acceptable; covering it up is even worse. Citizens deserve an honest election."
She said she's the best candidate because she knows how to work on time and on budget and has worked on infrastructure and development projects, with the military and on veterans medical facilities.
"Openness and proper spending of our tax dollars" are top issues in the race, she said, adding that her priorities if elected include "open government and representation. No pay-to-play, no slush funds, full disclosure of cost and programs. It is time to weed out the programs designed to magnify a problem for profit."
Ratterree, a 54-year-old CEO of Compressed Air Systems Llc., from Rendon, is making his first bid for office because — after successfully fighting back Department of Energy regulations that would have devastated his company — he wants to be a voice for other small-business owners.
"There is a dire need for experienced business leaders to get involved in Washington, D.C., and change the culture of American politics," said Ratterree, who often goes by the nickname "Big Troy." "We need to defeat career politicians and elect individuals who will serve our country. I will only serve four years in Congress to be certain I do not grow webbed feet and get comfortable in the swamp that the United States Capitol has become."
Key issues in this race, which he hopes to address if elected, include national security, student loans, immigration reform, term limits and congressional approval for regulations proposed by regulatory agencies.
"The threats to small businesses from our regulatory agencies must be stopped," he said. "There are many, many more American jobs I can save from under regulation. Elect me and I will work to bring those jobs home to America and the 6th District of Texas and your family."
Several candidates in this race are making their first bids for public office. Among them:
Harrison, a 51-year-old pastor and college founder from Mansfield, who said he's running for office because God wants him to.
"I have a grave concern regarding the moral fabric of our leadership in Congress, and rather than talk or complain about it, I've decided to do something to be a part of making a change," he said. "Washington is broken and we need leaders who will help restore the moral compass of America."
Key issues in this race, which he would address if elected, include national security, term limits, the national debt, immigration reform and healthcare.
"Everything I've done in my life has been to honor and please God," he said. "I'm not looking for a 'position' as a congressman; I already have a fulfilling career. District 6, Texas and America need someone who will stand up and fight for what is right and who is in touch with the needs of everyday people. I'm that person."
Dubberly, a 36-year-old IT project manager from Fort Worth who touts his experience in counterterrorism, said he is in this race because he's tired of business-as-usual in Congress.
"We need congressmen/congresswomen who aren't afraid to stand up to the swamp," he said. "This district is important to me, to the future of Texas and to our country. ... In politics today, we need fresh perspective, not more of the same. We need real world experience, not recycled office holders."
He points to time he spent working with the Army and Air Force, as well as his ability to be a problem solver, as important attributes. Key issues in this race, he said, include national security experience, immigration and a fresh perspective.
"The biggest issues this office faces are the people's loss of faith in the ethics of their congressional leader and the looming deficit," he said. "I will bring 6th District ethics to D.C. and use my family and faith to keep my eyes focused on the issues at hand — not the circus surrounding the city."
Dandridge, a network engineer in Arlington who declined to give his age, is running for office because he thinks "our political system is completely corrupt and does nothing for the people in its present form."
He said he has a good skill set that includes military service and past time as an IT expert.
The top issue in the race, he said, is getting "someone in office that will work for the people and not for the establishment or sell out to the lobbyists on K Street. We need someone who will stand up to the Democratic Party and if need be, the people in the Republican Party as well. We don't need another doormat like Joe Barton being elected in the 6th District."
If elected, he said he would work on immigration reform, the "woefully broken" Veterans Affairs system and reducing spending on entitlement programs "which are sucking us dry year after year."
Dillingham, a 43-year-old technology consultant from North Richland Hills, also is in the race.
"Facebook drove me out of business because I am a Trump supporter, so I quite honestly have nothing better to do," he said, adding that if elected, his top priorities would be "pushing the America-first agenda (and) updating the telecommunications act to protect freedom of speech on social media."
He notes that he's never said he was the best candidate. "But I talk straight, am open-minded and hope to help advance the America-first agenda," he said.
Hassell did not respond to Star-Telegram requests for information.
Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley