Local Officials Angry About Costly Texas Special Congressional Election

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County election officials in Texas are angry about an upcoming special Congressional election because they say it’s a costly exercise – and they are pointing fingers at the former incumbent, who is apparently backing away from a promise to reimburse the costs after his resignation earlier this year. Politico has more:

Texas officials are fuming over the tab for the upcoming special election to replace former Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold.

The cost of the June 30 election to replace Farenthold, who resigned in April amid reports he had used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, is expected to be at least $157,000 — and many of the 13 largely rural counties holding the election say they can’t afford their share of the bill.

Worse, they argue, the special election is a pointless and needlessly costly exercise since the contest is likely to go to a September runoff — meaning the eventual winner will likely serve in Washington for less than 90 days.

“We’re all not happy,” said Wharton County Elections Administrator Cynthia Richter. “It is what it is, it’s just crazy.”

The “costly special election” story is a familiar one, but the added twist is that Farenthold appears to be reneging on a promise he made to help:

After announcing the special election date, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote the millionaire former congressman to request that Farenthold pay for the special election costs himself. Farenthold had originally said he would pay back the $84,000 he used to settle the harassment claim; the governor asked that he apply that money to the local counties to cover the costs of the special election.

Farenthold’s response? No.

“In my opinion, as well as many other county officials I have heard from, a special election was not warranted and should not have been called,” wrote Farenthold in a letter addressed to Abbott. “However, that was your decision based upon the advice you were given. Since I didn’t call it and don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.”

Farenthold also told ABC News that he has been instructed by his attorneys not to pay the $84,000 — either to Texas election officials or to the federal government for the harassment claim….

Since leaving Congress, Farenthold has taken a job with the Calhoun Port Authority as a legislative liaison, earning a salary of $160,000. Farenthold did not return several calls to the port authority seeking comment.

Promise or no, the counties are digging deep into essentially empty coffers to run the election:

In Texas, that has left the burden on the financially strapped counties that make up the 27th Congressional District…

“We don’t have the funds for it,” said Caldwell County Elections Administrator Pam Ohlendorf. “This election is costing us what we don’t have.”

Matagorda County clerk Janet Hickl said: “It’s just crazy that they had to have more money just to have the special election…”

County officials say expenses associated with a special election are forcing them to reach into their contingency funds — accounts set up to cover government emergencies — or significantly downsize their operations.

“We have done everything we can to introduce cost-saving methods,” said Bastrop County Elections Administrator Bridgette Escobedo, whose county is expected to shell out $12,000 in special election expenses. “We’ve consolidated locations, reduced election workers; we’re running minimum crews for no overtime; we’re all paper and ordered minimum ballots.”

Sadly, this appears to be a common refrain: special elections are expensive, and local governments – who are least well-equipped to dip into available funds to cover them – are forced to foot the bill. It’s not like these are surprising occurrences; while specific vacancies may not be foreseeable, the need for special elections certainly is. It would be nice if federal and state governments recognized that fact and made money available when special elections do occur. In the meantime, counties like those in Texas will be reaching into empty wallets to cover the cost. Stay tuned…

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