Judge lets Texas Senate contender campaign amid residency doubts

Candidate for state Senate District 30 Brent Hagenbuch.
Candidate for state Senate District 30 Brent Hagenbuch. Credit: Social media

A judge has allowed a Texas Senate candidate backed by state GOP leaders to keep campaigning amid questions about his eligibility. But she has also declined to dismiss the case, letting it move forward ahead of the March primary.

The mixed news arrived Monday for Brent Hagenbuch, one of four Republican candidates competing to replace retiring Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. Hagenbuch, who has the support of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has been battling allegations for weeks that he did not meet the residency requirement when he filed for the office.

The latest ruling from Judge Lee Gabriel came in a lawsuit that one Hagenbuch opponent, Carrie de Moor, has filed in Denton County district court. With the litigation dragging on and the primary closing in, de Moor’s lawyers had sought a long-shot remedy from the judge: a temporary injunction to prevent him from campaigning.

The court told the parties Monday that Gabriel would deny that motion for a temporary injunction. But at the same time, she would deny Hagenbuch’s motion to dismiss the case under Texas’ anti-SLAPP lawsuit.

Hagenbuch’s campaign celebrated the ruling, saying the candidate won “another round” against opponents “who thought they could win this election at the courthouse.” Another Hagenbuch rival, Jace Yarbrough, unsuccessfully sought to get a state appeals court to intervene earlier this month.

But de Moor’s campaign emphasized that Gabriel allowed the case to proceed, clearing the way for depositions, subpoenas and a trial.

“We need Mr. Hagenbuch to come in and raise his right hand and put this to bed,” a de Moor lawyer, Mike Alfred, told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday. “He who has nothing to hide hides nothing, so why won’t he come forward, under oath, and answer questions?”

Under the Texas Constitution, candidates like Hagenbuch have to reside in the district they are running to represent for at least a year before the November election. When Hagenbuch filed for Senate District 30 in November, he listed his residence as an office building inside the district, though his opponents countered he had long been living in a home in a neighboring district.

Hagenbuch later claimed in court that he had been indefinitely subleasing a corporate apartment inside the office building, which houses his transportation company, for $1 a quarter.

For Hagenbuch’s opponents, it was always an uphill battle to get him removed from the ballot, especially so close to the primary. Saturday was the deadline for counties to mail out military and overseas ballots.

Hagenbuch is expected to fight efforts to proceed to a trial, making it unlikely it would happen before the March 5 primary. If he becomes the GOP nominee and there is a final judgment that he is ineligible — after a trial and any appeals — he could lose his place on the ballot and a GOP executive committee, likely precinct chairs in the district, would elect a replacement candidate.