Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman emeritus of the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee, will not run for reelection, he told the Dallas Morning News Thursday (Nov. 30).
A nude photo of Barton that was recently circulated, followed by personal messages involving extramarital affairs, were clearly an embarassment to the longtime legislator and put him in the conversation with fellow legislators Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), recently accused of sexual harassment or misconduct, though Barton said the relationships were all consensual.
The Texas Republican had apologized for what he signaled was a lapse in judgment. He told the paper that he listened to his constituents, and what they had been saying the past week signaled that "There are enough people who lost faith in me that it’s time to step aside and let there be a new voice for the 6th district in Washington, so I am not going to run for re-election."
Barton has been in the House since 1984, and was elected chairman of E&C, which oversees communications issues along with Justice, in 2004. He is a founding co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, and counted as his first legislative "victory," cracking down on indecency on broadcasting. That followed Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake 2004 Super Bowl halftime reveal, which prompted congressional hearings and backlash, including legislation that increased the maximum indecency fines ten-fold, from $32,500 per incident to $325,000 per.
As the coach of the Republican baseball team, he was in the news last summer after Majority whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and a staffer were shot while practicing for the game.
Coincidentally, Barton, Conyers and Franken are all familiar names in communications circles. Franken has been one of the most outspoken critics of media consolidation, arguably inheriting the mantle of former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan. That includes hammering his former employer, NBC, in hearings on the Comcast/NBCU deal. Franken and Barton have also both been strong proponents of online privacy protections.
As ranking member of Justice, Conyers has been involved in net neutrality issues and was a prominent figure during the SOPA/PIPA pushback on bipartisan online piracy legislation, when he was blindsided by the angry pushback from Silicon Valley that helped thwart the bill.
The legislative fates of both Conyers and Franken are both uncertain as more Democrats this week called for Conyers to resign, and the number of those accusing Franken of inappropriate touching during photo ops mounted. Conyers has stepped away from his ranking post on Judiciary, though he challenges the allegations. Franken has apologized repeatedly, but could be under pressure to resign given Congress' toughening stance amid suggestions that legislators remained in their posts while allegations against the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor and many others in the business world resulted in almost immediate actions.