U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas — who has come under fire recently for a nude photo that was shared online and a series of private messages with sexual overtones between him and a constituent — announced Thursday he won’t seek another term in office.
The nude photo of the Ennis Republican was shared before Thanksgiving, and Barton later apologized.
One day after the Star-Telegram obtained and published a story about Facebook messages that included a mix of politics and questions about whether she was “wearing a tank top only... and no panties,” Barton announced he would not seek re-election, as he planned earlier in the month.
“I’m glad he came to his senses,” said Kelly Canon, the woman with whom the congressman exchanged messages in 2012 and 2013 while Barton 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.”
A number of high-level Republicans in recent days have been calling for him to give up his re-election bid after the nude photo and sexual messages were published online.
Barton has represented the district since 1985. He will serve out his current term that expires Jan. 1, 2019.
“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,” Barton said in a statement. “Over the last thirty three 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 is not the first elected official to come under fire for inappropriate relationships with women. He is, however, the first to indicate he will not seek re-election.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright — a former chief of staff and district director for Barton — is considered among the stronger candidates for the district that includes most of Arlington and Mansfield and all of Ellis and Navarro counties.
Earlier this week, a group of local Republicans met privately with Barton to talk about his time in Congress. Several said privately that they didn’t think he should seek another term, in light of the nude photos.
Republican J.K. “Jake” Ellzey, a Texas Veterans Commission member who lives in Midlothian, has filed to run for the post.
Several Democrats have also filed.
Ruby Faye Woolridge of Arlington, who ran against Barton in 2016, has filed to run for the post again. So has Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations specialist from Arlington, and Levii R. Shocklee of Arlington.
Filing for slots on next year’s March 6 primary ballot runs until Dec. 11.
Barton won his first bid for office in 1984 after Phil Gramm decided to run for the Senate.
He has been a fixture in Congress since then.
When he first arrived, 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.
A hallmark of his tenure was serving as chairman of the House Energy Committee for two terms.
Barton weighed in on a number of issues ranging from energy to health care to climate change.
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.
He once picked up the nickname “Smokey Joe” for defending industries against tighter pollution controls.
He’s drawn attention through the years 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 work horses 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.
“Throughout his 30 plus year tenure Barton has consistently been seen as a reliable friend of the fossil fuel energy industry, working on its behalf in the House Energy Committee as well as on the floor.”
When Barton arrived in Congress, he was one of the most conservative Texas Republicans. As the Republican Party has shifted, he now is among the more centrist conservative Texas Republicans.
Some say his legacy isn’t all based on what he did.
“Rep. Barton’s career has been what he’s been against instead of for,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “He made waves challenging climate change, autism funding legislation or the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare."
And for the most part, he was as many considered a “reliable conservative vote,” he said.
The 68-year-old’s decision comes after serving the 6th Congressional District for more than three decades.
“I am very proud of my public record and the many accomplishments of my office. It has been a tremendous honor to represent the 6th District of Texas for over three decades, but now it is time to step aside and let there be a new voice,” Barton said in his Thursday statement. “I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection in 2018. To the people of the 6th District, thank you for your support and friendship.”
This year, Barton drew nationwide attention not only for his nude photo and sexual Facebook messages.
He was in the spotlight for helping shepherd the GOP baseball team through a tragic shooting.
In June, Barton, manager of the team, was at the batting cages with his sons Brad and Jack before he walked over to watch practice. As he was trying to decide who would be at the top of the batting order, as he stood near the on-deck circle by first base, 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.
Earlier this year, though, he drew attention during a March town hall meeting that drew a boisterous crowd. After he was boo’d, he told one man: “You, sir, shut up.”