Gov. Greg Abbott got the go-ahead Monday from Attorney General Ken Paxton to suspend state law so the governor can call a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.
Responding to a request from Abbott submitted Thursday, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying a court would agree Abbott could set aside the election rules under a part of Texas law that lets the governor suspend certain statutes if they interfere with disaster recovery. Abbott said last week he wanted Farenthold's former constituents to have new representation "as quickly as possible" because the Coastal Bend-area's Congressional District 27 is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.
"If the Governor determines the situation in Congressional District 27 constitutes an emergency warranting a special election before November 6, 2018, a court would likely conclude that section 41.0011 of the Election Code authorizes calling an expedited special election to fill the vacancy in that district," Paxton wrote.
Paxton's nonbinding opinion paves the way for Abbott to work around state and federal laws that he said are in conflict and make it "practically impossible to hold an emergency special election ... before the end of September." The governor's office did not immediately say what he planned to do in light of Paxton's opinion.
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Farenthold, who had already announced he was not running for another term, suddenly resigned April 6 amid mounting scrutiny over the revelation last year that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment accusations in 2015. Democratic and Republican runoffs are currently underway to determine the nominees to fill Farenthold's seat for the full term starting next year.
CD-27 is among several districts that are the focus of a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. Plaintiffs in the case argue that the districts were created in a way that discriminates against minorities and should be redrawn. A lower court agreed, and the high court is hearing Texas' appeal. It's not immediately clear how a Supreme Court ruling against Texas would affect special election plans.