Editorials

Rep. Joe Barton needs to find a new job

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is under fire for sending a nude photo of himself.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is under fire for sending a nude photo of himself. Bloomberg

Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Ennis, has apologized for a nude photo of himself that appeared on the internet. He had texted it to a woman years ago.

It appears that Barton has broken no laws. But should he keep his job in Congress? We don’t think so.

The photo of Barton, who represents Arlington and east Fort Worth as the longest-serving member of the Texas House delegation, surfaced on social media last week along with a sexually explicit text message he allegedly sent.

Barton says he was married and separated at the time and has acknowledged other consensual relationships with women. He is now engaged to be married again.

Barton, who at 68 is serving his 32nd year in the House, also recently announced he would seek re-election in 2018.

A national Republican strategist said party leaders expect to hear soon whether Barton will step down, retire at the end of his term or seek re-election as planned.

Sending nude photos of yourself, while morally questionable to many, is legal.

It’s an important distinction to make as we consider this development and on the heels of very different allegations against other public figures including Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Michigan Rep. John Conyers.

The Washington Post wrote on Wednesday that Barton told one woman he would report her to the Capitol Police if she shared the photo. Barton indicated the Capitol Police reached out him with an offer to launch an investigation and he accepted.

Depending on the context, Barton’s threat to contact the police could be perceived as an abuse of power.

In Texas, as of 2015, a statute has outlawed “revenge porn,” prohibiting people from sharing sexually explicit photos of individuals without their consent. From a federal standpoint, things are less clear.

And so this is complicated.

All of what we are working through right now in politics, entertainment, at employers large and small — is complicated. We know people have and will continue to abuse their positions of power.

But back to Barton:

Many have called for him to resign, or for him not to run again in 2018.

We do believe our elected officials should exercise sound judgment as they work on issues that are critical to our country’s and our communities’ future success.

A leader’s most important job is to make good judgments, to make the best possible decisions, those that will positively impact others.

What Barton did demonstrates his poor judgment, and it isn’t a stretch to think that poor judgment may extend to more than his personal life.

The standard we as voters use to select our elected officials is higher than for a private citizen. Public officials should be held to the highest of standards.

Barton has created a significant distraction as lawmakers look to tackle significant issues, including tax reform, healthcare reform, DACA and more.

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We know that today neither party can claim the moral high ground.

And as voters, we deserve to be represented by those who think first and always about how they can best serve their communities. We have a stake in this game, and it’s our vote. We have allowed for all that’s swirling around us today to become the new normal.

All of the other abuses of power, all of the other salacious acts we’ve read about in the last several weeks may have made this incident seem minor. Even in a conservative district, where Barton has campaigned on family values, some argue this will blow over. They’re likely right.

We wish they weren’t. We’ve got some rebuilding to do. We can start here.

Barton should not seek re-election. Not because he broke the law or abused power — the facts are not clear — but because of the poor judgment he displayed.

We deserve the best of the best in our elected officials. Role models.

Barton cannot be the visionary leader we need in this position with his personal life — and personal pictures — all over the internet.

Is it too much to demand that our leaders — in all levels of government — hold to their values in all areas of their lives?

We don’t think so.

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