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Texas Senate candidate backed by Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick faces mounting eligibility challenges

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Texas Senate candidate backed by Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick faces mounting eligibility challenges” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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DENTON — A Republican candidate for Texas Senate who is backed by top state leaders is fighting a multifront legal battle against primary opponents who want to remove him from the ballot over residency questions.

The latest twist came Monday in a Denton County district courtroom, where one of Brent Hagenbuch’s rivals, Carrie de Moor, was set to argue that he lied about his residency to run for office. But before the hearing could begin, one of her lawyers asked Judge Lee Gabriel to postpone it because he just learned of a new and curious claim by Hagenbuch.

In a filing hours earlier, the candidate said he was subleasing a “corporate apartment” for $1 quarterly in the office building that he listed as his residence when he filed to run. He “slept there, showered there, ate there and lived there,” the filing said.

Gabriel was upset with the last-minute filing by Hagenbuch but agreed to push back the hearing until Jan. 19.

“You should be prepared to argue everything that is pending,” Gabriel told Hagenbuch’s lawyers, adding that she did not want to drag out the case “until next November.”

Time is of the essence. The primary is March 5, and mail ballots have to start going out to military and overseas voters by Jan. 20.

Hagenbuch, a Denton County businessman who formerly chaired the county GOP, is one of four Republicans vying to succeed retiring Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, in his solidly red district in North Texas. It is the only GOP-held Senate seat that is open in 2024.

Hagenbuch has the support of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the upper chamber who exerts heavy influence over such primaries.

Hagenbuch’s primary competitors include de Moor, a Frisco emergency room physician who has the support of Attorney General Ken Paxton. There is also Jace Yarbrough, a conservative activist-attorney from Denton County, and Cody Clark, a former Denton police officer.

De Moor has filed the Denton County lawsuit, while Yarbrough is asking the Fort Worth-based Second Court of Appeals to intervene. The court gave Hagenbuch a Monday deadline to respond. Clark, meanwhile, has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate Hagenbuch.

Their efforts have proven unsuccessful so far, and Hagenbuch’s campaign has celebrated each delay. After the aborted hearing Monday, Hagenbuch spokesperson Allen Blakemore told reporters there that Hagenbuch’s opponents were “all following the playbook that Democrats are using against Donald Trump.”

“They fear the candidate,” Blakemore said, “so they’re trying to knock him off the ballot.”

Speaking separately with reporters, de Moor said: “I’m not afraid of [Hagenbuch]. He’s just not eligible.”

In a court filing, Hagenbuch said he was too busy to attend the hearing because he was campaigning elsewhere with Springer.

Under the Texas Constitution, candidates for legislative office have to reside in the district they are seeking to represent for at least a year before the election. That means that candidates for Senate District 30 would have had to live there since Nov. 5, 2023.

When Hagenbuch filed for the seat, he listed his address as an office building inside the district in Denton. It is the same building where his transportation company, Titus Transport, is a tenant. He said he had lived in the district for one and a half months at that point.

His opponents argue a host of public records undercut that claim. They say property, tax and voter registration records indicate that he lived outside the district — in neighboring Senate District 12 — as of Nov. 5.

In the new filing, Hagenbuch’s lawyers argued he established residency at the office building address by signing a “corporate apartment sublease” there on Oct. 2. The subleasor is listed as “NEAT,” which appears to match the name of Titus Transport’s parent company, NEAT Enterprises. The agreement says the term of the sublease is “indefinite” and Hagenbuch owes $1 in rent per quarter.

Asked why Hagenbuch would want to live in the office building, Blakemore told reporters it had to do with “family issues” that he has discussed on the campaign trail. His daughter moved into the family house after her husband died and ended up staying longer than expected, and Hagenbuch was looking for “breathing room.”

Hagenbuch has since moved into an apartment across the street from the office building, according to the new court filing.

Gabriel, the judge, was not pleased with the revelation of the corporate apartment sublease. She said she was “at a complete loss as to why” it was just disclosed Monday morning. A Hagenbuch lawyer, Andy Taylor, told her the timing of the disclosure was “not strategic,” just a result of his heavy workload.

De Moor’s side told the judge they needed time to “vet” the new filing but sounded deeply skeptical while speaking with reporters afterward.

“A guy shows up in court with a $1 lease that, if it’s true, would solve all of these problems for him, and it just magically shows up at the last minute?” de Moor lawyer Jack Stick said.

Late Monday morning, a Tribune reporter visited the office building where Hagenbuch claims to have resided. A sign out front identified the three-story building as “The MAC Building,” with “Titus Transport” in smaller print. Inside the lobby, which still had a Christmas tree up, a directory listed Hagenbuch’s company as one of 16 tenants.

A woman at the front desk inside the Titus Transport suite told the Tribune that Hagenbuch was not there.

A lot is riding on Hagenbuch’s candidacy.

The primary was already a headache for Patrick before he backed Hagenbuch. Patrick initially endorsed the U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon of Sherman, after he declared for the state Senate seat, which he previously held, but Fallon quickly backtracked and decided to stay in Congress.

While Abbott and Patrick are behind Hagenbuch, the primary is also important to Paxton. The attorney general is playing an active role in the primaries after the House voted to impeach him in May — and the Senate acquitted him after a trial in September. De Moor first surfaced as a potential candidate during the trial, when Springer was considered a swing vote. He ultimately joined most other GOP senators in voting to acquit Paxton.

The involvement of the top GOP leaders in the primary has also made it awkward for the Texas GOP chair, Matt Rinaldi, who has the power to declare candidates ineligible for the primary ballot. However, Rinaldi has declined to weigh in, letting the issue play out in the courts.

“We received correspondence from the respective candidates and the state court petition in which we were named a defendant and are complying with our duties and obligations under the election code,” party spokesperson James Wesolek said in a statement last month.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/08/denton-county-election-brent-hagenbuch/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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