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How Joe Barton Avoided Becoming a Texas Turkey

Ennis Congressman shifted the debate from naked selfies to revenge porn victimhood

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Photograph By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Back in 1988, when Chris Matthews was better known as an aide to recently retired House Speaker Tip O’Neill than as the television commentator that he is today, he wrote an excellent political primer for candidates, campaigns and politicians called Hardball. A chapter on how to deal with brewing scandal was called “Hang a Lantern on your Problems.” In short, don’t try to hide your trouble. Get the bad publicity over as fast as possible.

That is exactly the tactic taken this week by U.S. Representative Joe Barton as a naked selfie that he sent to a girlfriend in 2015 threatened to add him to the Anthony Weiner Hall of Selfie Shame. Weiner is the former New York congressman who initially ruined his career with naked pictures of himself, and an FBI investigation into his sexting a teenager last year spilled over into bad publicity for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the final days before the election.

When the naked picture of Barton first appeared on social media this week it caused a Twitter titter. The photo had digitally hidden Barton’s private parts, although his face and belly are easily seen, as well as the text message that began with, “I want you soo bad Right now.” The next three words were sophomoric and reminiscent of a bodice-busting romance novel.

As the Texas Tribune broke the story on Wednesday, Barton was quick to point out that it was taken as part of a consensual relationship with an adult woman. The Ennis Republican was quick to apologize for using bad judgment. “While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” he said. “Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”

So Barton’s first reaction was to hang a lantern on his problem, even if that meant admitting to a technical state of adultery. While very conservative and a member of the Freedom Caucus, Barton has never been one of the more outspoken social conservatives in Congress.

Next, his staff quickly pivoted to portraying him as a victim of revenge porn. In our modern era of cell phone cameras, many people have experienced spurned lovers posting naked photos of them on the internet in a deliberate attempt to shame or embarrass – and possibly in the case of a politician to ruin their careers. Plus, Texas has a new law making revenge porn a Class A misdemeanor. As salacious as a naked photo of a congressman might be, victimhood goes a long way toward earning forgiveness from voters.

The New York Times quoted a Barton statement as saying he had suffered “a potential crime.” The Washington Post contacted the woman involved, and she denied being the person who posted the photograph. The woman told the Post that Barton had complained to her in 2015 about sharing explicit photos with other women in his life. Barton told the newspaper that he had accepted an offer from the Capitol Police to investigate the incident. The Dallas Morning News quoted a spokesman for Barton, 68, as saying the congressman has filed for re-election and has no intention of resigning.

There is little reason for Barton to worry about the politics of his re-election. His 6th Congressional District, which stretches from southeast Tarrant County through Ellis and Navarro counties is safely Republican. Phil Gramm was representing the district when he switched parties from the Democratic to Republican parties in 1982. Gramm resigned and won re-election to the district in a special election in 1983. Barton captured the seat in 1984 when Gramm successfully ran for the U.S. Senate.

The district has been reconfigured more than once since then, but has remained a Republican stronghold. President Trump received 54 percent of the vote there last year, and in 2014 U. S. Senator John Cornyn got 60 percent of the vote, while Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton all received about 58 percent. In his statewide re-election victory of 2010, former Governor Rick Perry got 56 percent of the vote in Barton’s district.

So far, the only Democrat shown as filing against Barton on the Texas Secretary of State website is Ruby Faye Woolridge, who received just 39 percent of the vote in a challenge to Barton in 2016. The web site showed no Republicans as having filed, including Barton, but candidates file with the parties so there may be a delay in showing up on the state list. The filing deadline for the 2018 primaries is December 11, giving very little time to organize a campaign for any candidate, Democrat or Republican, who wants to exploit this scandal.

Although the election numbers favor Barton surviving the scandal, there is no doubt that two failed marriages and texting naked photos of yourself to a woman who is not your wife will not sit well with voters of a Republican Party that considers itself the party of family values. The scandal will hurt Barton politically. But if Barton decided to resign, a special election could not be held before the filing deadline. Republicans would have to settle on an agreed-to candidate or the possibility would exist of one person winning the nomination to run for a full term as the district congressman while a different person could win the special election to fill out Barton’s term. The greater likelihood–if Barton decided his political effectiveness is lost–would be that Barton merely announces that he will withdraw from the ballot and not seek re-election.

Barton had been chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee until 2007 but term-limited out under House rules. He now is vice chair of the panel. He has been one of the leading advocates of the energy industry in Congress, but he also has opposed deporting young people who were brought into the country by undocumented parents when they were children.

Revelations of the naked selfie comes at a time when there is a heated focus on women’s sexual harassment claims against men in the media and politics. And that, no doubt, is part of why Barton made clear that this was part of a consensual relationship that went bad sometime after the photos were exchanged. The woman involved told the Post that she had sex with Barton twice, once in Washington and once in Texas.

The best thing for Barton is the timing. While the controversy was a Thanksgiving feast for political junkies, it likely will be old news by the time average Texans return to work on Monday.

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  • WUSRPH

    It is a shame but you are probably correct. He may well get by this one…..Of course there will be a lot of jokes and snickers including from his colleagues in Congress……but it certainly shows him as being less than mature…..and down right stupid to let his lust get him in this mess in the first place.

    • roadgeek

      Yes, speaking as a staunch conservative, I have to say that this calls into question his judgement. Letting someone you don’t know really well have imagery of yourself in the nude rarely ends well.

    • SpiritofPearl

      He needs to do some sit-ups.

  • John Bernard Books

    Noway….4 more women accuse Clinton of sexual assault….
    “Bill Clinton is facing explosive new charges of sexual assault from four women, according to highly placed Democratic Party sources and an official who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.”
    http://www.dailywire.com/news/23910/democrat-news-network-cnn-fails-report-these-24-ryan-saavedra?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=062316-news&utm_campaign=dwbrand

    At least he didn’t commit a crime in most dem’s eyes…….

    • MrProgressive

      The Daily Wire is fake news that only slams Democratic people. You’re going to have to do better than that.

  • roadgeek

    My wife and I were discussing this yesterday, after we got through laughing. His handling of this matter is superb. Coming completely clean all up front and owning his poor behavior was masterful. He has all but guaranteed that he’ll walk away from this unscathed.

    • BCinBCS

      I wonder if Sen. Al Franken, who also got out ahead of his scandal, will walk away unscathed.

      • roadgeek

        What might be helping Joe Barton is that, so far, there’s only been the one incident. New incidents involving Franken keep popping up.

        • WUSRPH

          Patting somebody on the backend is a little less offensive then sending a picture of your privates out over the internet…….Plus Franken was dealing with grown women….unlike Roy Moore who liked them younger.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Barton’s primary offense was stupidity.

        • SpiritofPearl

          There is only one woman, but more than one incident.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Both Franken and Barton were nailed with photographic evidence. At least Franken admits he was in error. Barton is attempting to make himself the victim.

        “Life is hard, so very hard, when you’re dumb.”

    • SpiritofPearl

      You and your wife laugh a lot. Are you snorting nitrous oxide?

      • roadgeek

        No, we both have well-developed senses of humor. Laughter at the absurdities of life makes the days easier. Do you have a problem with laughter?

        • SpiritofPearl

          Only when nothing is funny.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Are you and Mrs. Geek still laughing?

      • roadgeek

        Oh, yeah. Even more. It’s all so tawdry. He should have known better. Very funny indeed. Not as amusing as Matt Lauer and his remote-controlled door lock on his office/sex dungeon, but still funny. Funny mainly because it’s just so silly.

        • SpiritofPearl

          As I recall you and the Mrs. thought Joe was so clever to shout “revenge porn.” Not so clever . . .

  • anonyfool

    On the other hand is is extremely common for adults to share among
    consenting partners and teenagers to share with other kids their age so I
    don’t think it’s important at all, it’s like judging people because
    they had premarital sex – only religious fanatics care about it. On the other hand we can see people calling themselves religious in Alabama choosing an accused pedophile over a Democrat so it’s laughable to think GOP voters would be swayed over an admitted adulterer even if Jesus or Reagan was running against him with a (D) by his name.

  • r.g. ratcliffe

    No doubt that this calls his judgment into question. It’s unlikely that a successful challenge could be put together between now and the filing deadline. However, if the party leadership can settle on a candidate, they may well pressure Barton into announcing that the will not run again. As I noted in the piece, a resignation at this stage creates too many problems unless there’s an agreed-to replacement candidate.

  • WUSRPH

    Interesting point in the NYT today: If Congress is going to investigate Rep. Conyers and Sen. Franken for their past
    sexual misbehavior who is going to investigate Trump for his? Just as many—actually more—women have come forward to complain about him…plus he is on tape talking about how he likes to walk up to women and grab them by their ….. What makes his behavior political acceptable and exempt from review or censure. The Republicans were all hot and heavy about Bill Clinton’s antics…why not Trump’s?…..or will it take him doing it while he is president for anyone to notice?…..That does not seem to be the standard being used on Franken. Richard Nixon used to try to get by with a claim that “if the President does it it is not a crime” but I hope we haven’t gotten that far toward Trumptarianism yet.

    • roadgeek

      All the facts about Pussygate were known before the election, yet Trump won the election. In electing him president, the American people indicated that, after duly considering the evidence, they’re weren’t overly concerned about that particular incident with Billy Bush, and have resolved the issue in their minds.

      • WUSRPH

        Since Trump is a MINORITY president who received less votes by your standard a MAJORITY of the American people DID think it made a difference and STILL DO. Trump represents, as David Brooks points out, “a polluting of our national culture” with lower standards for personal and political behavior where “grabbing by their ……:, insults and lies after lies are accepted by at least a minority—possibly including you—as tolerable behavior. Much of the heightened interest in combating sexual harassment may well be attributed to women declaring that the Trump’s of this world will not be allowed to escape the consequences of their actions….That was clear in the November elections with the Democratic sweep. We can only that it continues into 2018 and beyond.

        • roadgeek

          Interesting to note, however, that almost all of the men who have lost their positions and their careers, both in Hollywood, DC and elsewhere, have not been found guilty in a court of law, but have lost their reputations based solely on hearsay and personal testimony, in many cases about incidents that took place decades ago.

          Even the witches at Salem got a trial.

          • WUSRPH

            I hope that Trump GETS a trial with the women he allegedly offended–and has repeatedly called liars since—taking their case to COURT. The men you mention, other than a handful, have never in the past—and likely today and into the future—had to face a Court of Law……The only recourse was the Court of Public Opinion…..and its has and will render its judgement as it has throughout history.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Then there is GHW Bush who everyone seems to overlook – a groper for years:

            http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/26/george-h-w-bushs-legacy-likely-to-survive-serial-groping-allegations/

      • José

        “that particular incident”
        Recall that there were multiple incidents, many confirmed by the man himself himself. Others are still coming out. The video tapes will be tricky to explain though his followers apparently are willing to jettison any moral standard whatsoever.

    • Julie

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  • MrProgressive

    Barton’s district is so gerrymandered that he would still win no matter what he did. That’s the case with most republican drawn districts. Think about this, in the 2016 election more people voted for Democrats than republicans in the house races, yet they didn’t win a majority.

  • SpiritofPearl

    “Revenge porn”? Old Joe flunked an elementary IQ test. Anyone who posts such photos on line deserves to suffer the consequences. Send him packing.

  • SeeItMyWay

    I have a feeling that adulterous activity in D.C. is commonplace; I have to believe that passing nude selfies around to casual partners is not. Only an idiot, thinking they are somehow bulletproof, would do something like that. I just know I don’t want him representing me…and he does. Not because of anything immoral; just because he is ignorant.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Any likelihood he’ll be primaried?

      • SeeItMyWay

        Doubt it.

      • SeeItMyWay

        I’m trying to get a CPA who has been actively involved with Boys & Girls Club and other local non-profits for a long time, and served on the boards of the Texas Municipal League and Tarrant County Water District to run. He opted out of running for the Arlington At Large City Council seat he held for 8 yrs the last term. He was a shoo in for re-election and did a great job while in office. He is smart, quiet, thoughtful, unassuming and a consensus maker. I doubt he will do it, but I’ve reached out to him personally to do so, as well as encouraging others to do so.

        • SpiritofPearl

          Sounds like someone who isn’t willing to commute to D.C. Can’t blame him for that.

          • SeeItMyWay

            They once lived in the suburbs of DC. His wife is an Ernst & Young partner and worked out of the DC office for several years.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Have you approached him since Mr. Revenge Porn made the news?

          • SeeItMyWay

            Yes, I have. He says “no”. He could win with Arlington votes alone by the at large district voters who remember him well from his 8 yrs in office.

          • SpiritofPearl

            What is your take on the woman who is running?

          • SeeItMyWay

            Very pleasant and sharp. I met her at a city function and she gave me a card. Also asked me on social media to come to one of her get togethers. This after I had some pointed words for Barton …long before this latest deal became public. To be honest, I know little about her.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Do you remember her name? I’ve forgotten.

  • WUSRPH

    I was reading a small item in a British magazine when I was suddenly struck by the thought of what next year, 2018, represents in American history.

    Think of it:

    It will be the 50th commemoration (I cannot use the word anniversary for such events)

    * of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.;

    * of the killing of Bobby Kennedy;

    * of LBJ sacrificing his office in the hope he could end the war in Vietnam

    * of burning cites and urban riots;

    * of the Chicago “police riots” and anti-war protests;

    * of the last gasp of Liberal Republicanism, in which I played a small part; and most regrettably

    * of the election of Richard Nixon.

    And consider that we have two generations grow up since then and a third on the way to whom those events may mean only a name on a street sign or what they saw on Ken Burn’s recent TV series, if they even watched it.

    Think of how far we have come…and, in so many ways, how far we still have to go……..

    • WUSRPH

      Speaking of old times and forgotten things:
      Here we are in the middle of the debate and consideration of the GOP “reward the rich, give the middle a penny and stick it to the poor” tax bill and I haven’t heard a word about that 20% tax (tariff) that Trump declared he was going to enact on all those evil companies that destroyed America by moving our jobs offshore. Wonder what happened to it?
      Well, I guess we can add it to the ever-growing list of things Trump PROMISED that have not—and most likely–will not be honored.

    • José

      1968 was such an eventful year. I was still a kid but watched the news faithfully. A few more items stick in my mind:
      – The Prague Spring, crushed months later by Soviet tanks.
      – The Mexico City Olympics. Bob Beamon’s leap. Fists raised in protest.
      – Spiro who? Wallace and LeMay winning electoral votes in the south.
      – The White Album.
      – A beautiful ending to a turbulent year. Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, reading from Genesis 1 on Christmas Eve as astronauts orbited the moon.

  • WUSRPH

    What does it tell you about how America is viewed in the world today when a distinguish British historian in making an analysis of the behavior of Henry VIII comments:

    “We have been taught to regard the king as tempestuous, babyish, self-indulgent—Donald Trump like..”

    • WUSRPH

      I see you saw where Trump says he declined the honor of being Time’s man of the year which they never offered him. I guess he can put that cover up with the fake Time Man of the Year covers they had on the walls at some of his golf clubs.

  • WUSRPH

    ATTENTION: JJ. This is something you will want to follow-up. It will help you determine how much of that swill you were spreading all during the election campaign was straight from Russia. Of course, you probably picked a good deal of it up from secondary sources that got it from the Russians….

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/11/22/wondering-if-the-russians-reached-you-over-facebook-now-you-can-find-out/?hpid=hp_hp-cards_hp-card-technology%3Ahomepage%2Fcard&utm_term=.467175760943

    How does it feel to be a “dupe of the Kremlin”?

    • SeeItMyWay

      I wish you could get over your anger. I don’t hate you; I just don’t think as much of you as you want me to. You are a great historian, but nothing special when it comes to prognosticating. You read and swallow everything that promotes your positions, and then pass the links on as fact. You are not alone.

    • St. Anger

      Jj’s response was basically that you are too credulous for believing the washpo.

      Better to stick with Russian bots on facebook, apparently.

      • WUSRPH

        I doubt I will take advice on information sources from a person who in his prior identify and even a little bit in his new one has repeatedly declared that:

        * All people are liars (except himself and those he wants to believe)
        * All people are so overwhelmed by their biases that there is no such thing as an “objective opinion” (again, except for himself and those he names)
        * All government reports, figures and data are politically slanted and biased and should not be accepted as evidence (except those he believes)
        * All other reports, studies, analyses or stories on public issues, including scientific issues, are based and bought opinions (again except the ones he believes). There is no such thing as “the scientific method” as all is biased.
        *No “evidence” is valid unless it supports his views.
        *All media outlets (other than those he trusts) are biased and report only what their owners want.
        * All elected members and employees of the US Congress and particularly the Texas Legislature are liars, crooks and thieves whose votes are bought by various “Bigs” (again except for the one or more members with whom he is now temporarily besotted).
        * You should believe nothing you have not seen and experienced yourself (except for those sources which restate your existing opinions) or anecdotes you picked up at the country club.

        Of course, if you accept all his declarations as truth (he being the only truthful person), you would believe nothing but what he proclaims…

        • John Bernard Books

          we don’t…no one believes a word of your propaganda

        • WUSRPH

          PS I assume he will make some sort of a response….won’t read it….but I bet he will not deny any of the points since he has said just those things on many occasions.

  • WUSRPH

    Boy you can hear the screams about the Koch brothers buying Time…..but why? They may well
    give it a more libertarian leaning but Time—especially when its founder Henry Luce was alive—has always had a slant……It was the No. 1 mouthpiece for the “China Lobby” and Internationalist Republicanism for many, many years. You just had to be a intelligent reader and learn how to discount that. I guess the problem is that we have fewer readers these days who are capable of doing so.

    • WUSRPH

      Someone quickly pointed out that there is one distinct advantage of the Koch brothers buying Time…..because of the way they feel about Trump it guarantees that he will never be Man of the Year again.

    • SeeItMyWay

      More condescension from TM’s resident pedant. He’s quite the historian…which he feels makes him omniscient and somewhat superior. Anyone but me feel a bit sorry for people like this?

      • John Bernard Books

        He has drawn a tax payer funded salary all his life to be condescending…..

  • John Bernard Books
  • SpiritofPearl
  • SocraticGadfly

    It’s pretty clear, if one reads Texas law, that this is actually NOT a crime. The law has “and” clauses, not “or” clauses. Newspapers cites a fairly shoddy legal take by Shannon Edmonds, with a mix of “i think it is” but “I’m uninformed.”

  • WUSRPH

    A little of that perspective that Trumpites object to so much:

    The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza argues that December could be the month that makes or breaks the Trump presidency:

    “Year one is when Presidents usually make their mark[.] By the second year, a President’s legislative agenda becomes complicated by the hesitancy of members of Congress to take risky votes as midterm elections approach particularly if a President is unpopular. The math is stark: on average, modern Presidents have historically lost thirty House seats and four Senate seats in their first midterm elections. Trump’s first year has been different. He has a record low approval rating. He is mired in scandal. [And] he looks like a President in his eighth year rather than one in his first. … He is unique among modern Presidents in that he has no significant legislative accomplishments to show for ten months after taking office.”

  • John Bernard Books

    Attn WASSUP and Pocahontas II ….Matt Lauer FIRED! Trump is draining the liberal swamp…….