AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A conservative activist who for years exchanged online messages with Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton says that when he occasionally steered the topic toward sexual themes, she long dismissed it as “that’s just Joe.”
Kelly Canon, a vocal opponent of red-light cameras and a tea party organizer in Arlington, released a series of Facebook Messenger conversations with Barton from 2012 in which he asked things like if she was wearing panties.
First reported by the Fort Worth Star Telegram on Wednesday, the revelation comes a week after Barton apologized for a nude photo of him that circulated on social media.
Canon later told The Associated Press that she and Barton exchanged online messages from around 2011 to 2015. They included Barton asking after midnight in June 2012 whether Canon was “wearing a tank top only … and no panties.” The congressman was married at the time to his second wife but is now twice divorced.
Canon said “97 percent” of the messages were about politics or things like their mutual love for Teas A&M football but “whenever he would take the conversation south, as it were, I would not engage him in further discussion. I would shut it down.”
She said that, at the time and long after, “I would just dismiss it as ‘that’s just Joe,'” and that she continued the exchanges because she didn’t want to lose a direct line to a powerful Texas Republican.
Canon said she had largely forgotten about the messages until the nude photograph of Barton surfaced on an anonymous Twitter account before Thanksgiving. She said that after Barton refused to heed calls from some Republicans in his district to resign, she decided to make the exchanges public.
“It killed me to do so,” Canon said. But she said that she felt it was important because “the Democrats are going to have a feeding frenzy” if Barton’s name remains on the 2018 ballot.
Repeated calls to Barton’s campaign seeking comment weren’t answered Wednesday. But, in an earlier text message to the Star Telegram, the congressman confirmed the exchange with Canon while declining further comment.
Canon said Barton hasn’t apologized for the messages and that she’s not asked him to. She said she saw the congressman at an Arlington event this week and personally pressed him about resigning — but that she did not tell him of her plans to release the Facebook messages.
After the nude photos surfaced last week, Barton suggested he could be the victim of online exploitation since he said he’d previously threatened to complain to authorities if a woman he’d been in a relationship with made public sexually explicit photos and videos of him.
Barton is Texas’ most senior member of Congress. He announced last month that he was running for re-election and has yet to fully clarify whether he’s changed his mind.
Speaking briefly to reporters in Washington on Wednesday — prior to the latest revelations — Barton wouldn’t discuss his re-election plans or if GOP leaders are pressuring him to quit the House, saying: “I’m really in a bind here because I’m not supposed to say anything.”
Asked what reception he got from colleagues at a closed-door House GOP meeting, Barton said, “Just understanding.”
Associated Press reporter Alan Fram in Washington, D.C., contributed to this story.