Former Congressman's Son Mulls Challenging Farenthold

Democrats may have a recruit against U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, after all. And that person's name should be familiar to residents in the district: former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr.

State Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, at the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi, on June 26, 2010.
State Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, at the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi, on June 26, 2010.  Spencer Selvidge

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold could face a familiar name when he’s up for re-election in his Gulf Coast-area district.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. — the son of former U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz Sr., whom Farenthold defeated in 2010 — said he’s weighing a 2016 challenge against the Republican incumbent.

“I think a race for office is something that takes a lot of prayer and meditation and thought,” Ortiz Jr. said in a phone interview with The Texas Tribune. “And yes, obviously, I’m considering it.”

Democrats say that amid a former spokeswoman's allegations of sexual harassment against Farenthold's congressional office, there is an opportunity to retake the seat held by the Corpus Christi congressman. Farenthold has denied the charges.   

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Ortiz said he recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Committee — the campaign arm of the House Democrats.

Besides Luján, Ortiz has discussed a possible run with his father.

“He was the guy here in South Texas who broke down barriers,” the younger Ortiz said of his father. “He knows what it takes to be an effective member of Congress,"

And the topic has come up in conversations with some Texas House colleagues: U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

The elder Ortiz's loss to Farenthold in the 2010 Republican wave election was particularly bitter for Democrats. National Democratic operatives assumed Ortiz was in a safe Democratic seat, but Farenthold defeated him by 775 votes.

Ortiz Jr. lost his Texas House re-election bid that same year.

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Should he run, Ortiz would benefit from his father's name recognition. But this will not be the same district his father represented for nearly 30 years. State mapmakers made the district more strongly Republican during the 2011 redistricting.   

Farenthold's re-election totals subsequently jumped, to 57 percent in 2012 and 64 percent of the vote in 2014.

In regard to the legal issues and unflattering press coverage about Farenthold, Ortiz said, "I think enough has been written to where people can make up their own minds in terms of what they think.”

"When you have these clouds hanging over your head, it limits your ability to govern and being taken seriously by your peers," he added. "I think the district deserves better." 

Farenthold spokesman Kurt Bardella dismissed Ortiz's comments and the allegations. 

“The district deserves representatives who will defend their right to know what this government is doing and why," Bardella wrote in an email. "What they don’t deserve is someone trying to score cheap political points by using the specter of false allegations as cover to further his own political ambitions."

Luján's DCCC predecessor, Rep. Steve Israel of New York, ran a committee that frequently cleared primaries for preferred Democratic House candidates. For now, it appears Ortiz would have little competition for the nomination.

At least one prominent local Democrat, Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez, told the Tribune on Thursday that she was not interested in a run.

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Speculation about a Farenthold-Ortiz Jr. faceoff is nothing new. Almost the same scenario played out in 2013. Ortiz traveled to Washington, D.C., met with the DCCC and openly mulled a run to The Dallas Morning News.

Ortiz's tone is more committal this time around. And Democrats anticipate an easier time recruiting House candidates this cycle because the party typically performs better in presidential election years. 

Ortiz stressed repeatedly in his interview with the Tribune that beyond Democrats, Republican friends and donors are encouraging him to run.

“You want good government, and Blake Farenthold does not deliver that," he said. 

Bardella answered that criticism by touching on issues that play well with the conservative base. 

"Good government is getting to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi, stopping the IRS from targeting conservatives and defending our constitution from Barack Obama’s lawlessness," Bardella wrote. "Apparently, Mr. Ortiz has a very different definition of what ‘good government’ really means."

Looking ahead, Ortiz said he fully understands the Republican nature of the district, but insists there is a path. 

"It’s obviously a district drawn intentionally to retain a Republican seat, but that doesn’t mean it’s not winnable," he said.