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What’s Next for U.S. District 27?

Candidates now running to represent District 27 are Republicans Michael Cloud (left) and Bech Brunn, and Democrats Eric Holguin (left) and Raul “Roy” Barrera. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court (top picture) will be looking whether district lines violate Section 2 of the Votings Rights Act during a hearing April 24. Illustration by Roland Chiapoco

Congressional District 27 is now vacant, and could remain so until the 116th Congressional session begins Jan. 3, 2019. Who, if anyone, will represent the district for the next seven months is now in the hands of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Meanwhile, a hearing as to whether the district is even constitutional is set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 24.

U.S. District 27 runs from the Gulf Coast to Central Texas. It became vacant April 6 when U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) packed up his Washington, D.C., office and headed home — five months after declaring he would not seek re-election. The four-term congressman resigned after news reports that an until-then secret congressional office paid a former staffer $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint against Farenthold.

Other complaints of inappropriate behavior in the congressman’s office soon surfaced followed by the announcement the U.S. House Ethics Committee had opened two investigations against him. Along with the sexual harassment charges, the committee is looking into whether Farenthold compelled his House employees to work on his re-election campaigns. His resignation could bring those investigations to an end.

Appointments are not allowed for vacated congressional seats, leaving the Gov. Abbott with two options: Order a special election or an emergency election, both costly prospects for a job that will last about half a year. Either way, the seat will be filled for a full, two-year term by voters in the upcoming Nov. 6 mid-term election.

Abbott is unlikely to call a special election, which could only be held on Nov. 6. Farenthold resigned too late for the only other special election option, which is May 5. A candidate elected Nov. 6 would only serve until Jan. 3, when the person who won the two-year term on the same election day would take over.

Of course, that could be the same person, listed on the ballot twice, a confusing prospect at best. Currently, four candidates are vying for that seat. That number will be whittled down to two — one Republican and one Democrat — after ballots are counted in the May 22 primary run-off election.

An emergency election still might be an option, however, as Abbot considers how the district, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, would fare without representation until January 2019. Congressional staff will be kept in both the Washington office and the field offices in Corpus Christi and Victoria to deal with constituent concerns.

An emergency election must be held on a Tuesday or Saturday, 36-50 days in advance of that date. If called the day this story was being written, the election could be held on May 19 or May 22, or any Saturday or Tuesday after that. The candidate would be immediately sworn in, meaning District 27 could have representation for the last seven months of the 115th Congressional session.

Candidates now running to represent District 27 are Republicans Bech Brunn and Michael Cloud and Democrats Eric Holguin and Raul “Roy” Barrera. The winner of each primary will face off Nov. 6.

The winner of a tight race between the Republican candidates is expected to be the next congressman as the district is rated “Safe Republican,” according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan online political encyclopedia.

That strong Republican rating has caused some issues for the district, now embroiled in a court battle over gerrymandering. In August 2017, U.S. Districts 27 and 35 and Texas District 32 in Nueces County were declared unconstitutional by a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) currently represents District 32, while U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) represents U.S. District 35.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case over whether these district boundaries discriminate against minority voters. Known as Abbott v. Perez, the case is set to go before the court April 24. (See related story.)

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