Last week, GOP Rep. Joe Barton apologized after "a graphic nude photo" of him began circulating online. From there, things quickly spiraled out of control for congressman, who has represented the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985: On Thursday, he announced that he would not seek re-election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District, a seat that backed Mitt Romney 58-41 and Donald Trump by a slightly narrower 54-42 margin.
It's an inglorious end for Barton, the former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who earned the derisive nickname "Smokey Joe" from environmentalists in 2005 for championing the dangerous gas additive MTBE. Barton had insisted just weeks ago that he was running for yet another term, but just before Thanksgiving, he admitted that a very not-safe-for-work-photo that had been posted by an anonymous Twitter account did indeed depict him. Hours later, a woman provided The Washington Post, on condition of anonymity, with audio of a secretly recorded phone conversation she said she had with Barton in 2015, where he was heard confronting her both for communicating with other women he was having relationships with and for sharing some explicit materials with them.
The scandal grew worse after the holiday break. A Republican activist named Kelly Canon shared several salacious text messages from Barton that he sent her while he was still married, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the congressman "took it a step too far on rare occasions.” Said Canon, “He was very fascinated with my attire, to the point of being inappropriate." (Sample exchange: Barton: "so that means u to wearing a tank top only and no panties?" Canon: "ok that's enough you know my attire! Good night." Barton: "answer me miss evasive.”)
Several prominent Texas Republicans had reportedly urged the Barton not to run again in private; as the details mounted, those calls became public. In the end, Smoky Joe decided to take the advice.
Texas' filing deadline is Dec. 11, so potential successors need to quickly decide what they'll do. While Republicans will be favored to retain this seat no matter what, given the ongoing outpouring of progressive energy across the country these days, it makes sense for Democrats to make a push here and at the very least keep the GOP back on its heels.