Bud Kennedy

‘Better him than a Democrat’: Yes, Joe Barton could get re-elected, nude pic and all

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who represents Arlington, east Fort Worth, Ellis County and much of the southern Dallas-Fort Worth area.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who represents Arlington, east Fort Worth, Ellis County and much of the southern Dallas-Fort Worth area. Star-Telegram

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton was 35 when he was elected to Congress, and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to work.

He’s stayed 33 years, long enough to bring seniority, clout and federal dollars to Arlington.

Starting over means resetting that clock to zero. The District 6 congressional seat would have zero seniority, zero clout and zero way to secure federal dollars.

But sooner or later, either lawmakers or voters always reset that clock.

In recent days, Barton has said he is sorry over a nude photo from a past relationship that was published last week. It’s against the law to circulate photos from an intimate relationship, but there is no way to delete it from anyone’s memory.

For what seems like 10 years or more, Arlington Republicans have hung on every election wondering if Barton would run again.

Now, some almost fear he might.

“To be honest, it’s a little hypocritical for someone to tout family values and then be accused of these things,” said Darrell Castillo of Arlington, a former Republican congressional staffer and Reagan White House assistant who teaches government at Weatherford College.

“It hasn’t all come out in the wash yet … [but] the Republican primary voters are generally social conservatives who don’t approve of this.”

That works both ways.

Republican voters in the March 6 primary might view Barton as reckless and self-indulgent.

Yet others might see him as a crime victim, repentant and deserving of redemption.

“You see this even with priests and pastors,” Castillo said.

“When somebody gets caught” — Roy Moore, maybe? — “they say, ‘We’ll forgive him. Better him than a Democrat.’

In Barton’s hometown of Ennis, residents have already begun forgiving.

Two women in a restaurant told a Star-Telegram reporter, “Everybody has done something,” and “It’s not our first scandal.”

A 47-year-old woman asked The Dallas Morning News: “How many people do that every day?

If a Democrat poses a threat to Barton, that candidate is not in view.

Waxahachie Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, a communications consultant, leads fundraising with $16,439 on hand at last report, including $1,000 from personality Rosie O’Donnell.

Sanchez’s campaign claims that’s more money than any Democrat has raised against Barton in 20 years. But Barton has $391,543.

Arlington lawyer John Duncan and party activist Justin Snider each have about $5,000. Past candidate Ruby Woolridge only has $1,639, with Levii Shocklee trailing.

If no candidate wins an outright majority March 6, the nomination goes to a May 22 runoff.

If Barton is at risk, it’s more likely in the Republican primary.

County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright of Arlington, a former Barton aide, is considered the heir apparent. But he’s 64 now, and probably won’t run if Barton does.

Squeaky-clean State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, was mentioned last week as a potential challenger. He’s 56.

(You wonder if some names are floated because lobbyists want them promoted up out of Austin.)

Arlington has a number of Republicans with the political muscle to move up. For example, anybody aligned with Midlothian resident Taya Kyle, widow of the late “American Sniper” Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, would be a formidable candidate.

And Arlington has deep business connections with the Bush family and Jerry Jones. Even current U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Austin) launched his original campaign at what is now Globe Life Park.

Before Democrats start painting Arlington blue, they should re-read the 2016 results: A weak Republican ticket still won District 6 by 12 points.

If and when Barton leaves Congress is mostly up to Barton.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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