In stunning move, Republican congressman drops re-election bid in Texas after admitting affair

In stunning move, Republican congressman drops re-election bid in Texas after admitting affair

Republican Rep. Van Taylor shocked Texas politicos Wednesday by announcing that he was ending his re-election campaign because of an affair the married congressman had with a woman who had fled her ISIS terrorist husband years ago, a move that came hours after he was forced into a primary runoff against former Collin County Judge Keith Self. Taylor said he would be taking his name off the runoff ballot, which will automatically make Self the GOP nominee. Self will now be the easy favorite to win the general election in a Plano-based seat the GOP legislature aggressively gerrymandered: While Trump took the old version just 50-49, the newly drawn 3rd District would have supported him 56-42.

In the primary just the day before, Taylor took 49% of the vote―just below the majority he needed to win outright―while Self beat out businesswoman Suzanne Harp 27-21 for second. Self, who was badly outspent, used the campaign to bash Taylor for voting to accept Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in the hours after the attack on the Capitol and for supporting the creation of a Jan. 6 commission, but there was no talk from him about any personal scandal involving his opponent.

However, whispers about the story that would end the two-term congressman’s career began to circulate on far-right sites two days before the March 1 primary when the National File posted audio of a Plano resident named Tania Joya, who had taken her children out of Syria in 2013 weeks after her now-dead husband brought them there, talking about their affair. The white supremacist site Breitbart published its own account on Monday, but mainstream outlets didn’t pick it up before the primary (the Texas Tribune says it wasn’t able to independently verify the story).

However, Harp on election eve insisted the allegations made it “dangerous to have compromised and corrupt representation in Washington,” and this wasn’t her first encounter with the story. That’s because Harp, reports the Dallas Morning News, sent one of her supporters to do the interview with Joya that National File ran days later. Joya, who lives in Plano and works to rehabilitate ex-terrorists, said she had met Taylor through her work and the two became “very close” before the relationship ended. Joya also says that, as the affair concluded, she asked Taylor to pay her $5,000 to pay off her bills. She said, “For him, it was like, ‘Okay, on the condition you don’t tell anyone.’ … I didn’t want to tell anybody anything.”

Unfortunately for Taylor, things didn’t remain amicable between the two. Joya said she didn’t even know his primary was about to take place, but she grew tired of seeing his face on billboards across her community. “All I wanted was for Suzanne Harp to just say, ‘Hey, I know your little scandal with Tania Joya,” she said, adding, “Would you like to resign before we embarrass you?’ But it didn’t happen like that.”

The story only became widely known Wednesday when Taylor emailed his supporters to tell them he was exiting the race. “About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” he wrote, continuing, “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life.”

Taylor’s admission concludes what had been a promising political career. The Republican, who is descended from the founder of the giant Humble Oil, served with the Marines in Iraq and first sought elected office in 2006 by taking on Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in the 17th District, a Waco-based seat located over 100 miles from Plano. Edwards, though, had survived a GOP gerrymander two years before by winning re-election even as George W. Bush was carrying his constituency in a 70-30 landslide, and Taylor struggled to gain traction in what was rapidly turning into an awful year for his party. Edwards went after his opponent for only recently moving to the district and won 58-40, but Taylor was far from done with politics.

Taylor soon relocated to Collin County and won a 2010 runoff against Mabrie Jackson to succeed state Rep. Brian McCall in a state House seat that Democrats weren’t contesting. (Edwards that same year lost re-election to Republican Pete Flores.) In a strange set of circumstances, though, McCall resigned early to become chancellor of the Texas State University System, and Jackson beat Taylor in the special election for the final months of his term even though she’d already dropped out. But Taylor still won the special by default and any embarrassment was brief, as he won a promotion to the state Senate in 2014 without any serious opposition.

The same thing happened in 2018 when longtime Republican Rep. Sam Johnson retired and Taylor, who self-funded $3 million, easily prevailed in the primary and general elections for a historically red seat. The incumbent had a tougher fight in 2020 when Democratic attorney Lulu Seikaly ran a credible campaign against him. Team Blue hoped that Trump’s toxicity in the suburbs would drag down Taylor, but it wasn’t enough: While Trump’s margin of victory crashed from 55-41 in 2016 to just 50-49, the congressman ran well ahead and prevailed 55-43. The GOP legislature didn’t want to take any chances with that trend, however, which is why they implemented a new gerrymander this cycle.

The beneficiary of that new map and Taylor’s failure to claim a majority on Tuesday is Self, a hard-line conservative who has his own long record in local politics. Self ran for Congress all the way back in 2002 for the 26th District, but physician Michael Burgess beat him 22.5-22.2 to claim the second spot in the runoff (Burgess won the nod in an upset and remains in the House). Self bounced back in 2006 by winning the race for Collin County judge, an executive post that’s the rough equivalent of a county executive, and he quickly established a reputation for picking fights with other members of the local government.

Self faced a serious renomination fight in 2010 from Plano School Board member John Muns, who tried to portray himself as the true conservative in the race. The judge, who had his own ardent right-wing support, again made headlines during that campaign when he pushed back on a Muns attack by quoting the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels saying, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The judge defended his actions by insisting that, while he wasn’t linking Muns to the Nazis, “I said he was using the method. There’s a huge difference. This is one of those things where the PC police immediately go crazy.”

Self prevailed 58-42 ahead of an easy general election win, and while he considered running for the 3rd in 2018, he retired that year instead. He looked like a long shot when he announced his own primary bid against Taylor in October, whom he went after for accepting Biden’s victory, and he still seemed to be the clear underdog after the incumbent narrowly failed to win a majority on Tuesday. The congressman’s self-destruction, though, now puts Self on a glide path to win a House seat 20 years after his first attempt.

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