Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Pete Flores, who had just been sworn in as Texas Senate District 19’s new state senator. His race, an upset victory for Republicans, made waves not only in Texas but across the country.
Since winning his election, Flores has even been invited on Fox News to discuss his recent victory against establishment Democrat Pete Gallego in a district Republicans have not won since Reconstruction.
Flores’ victory is even more significant when you consider he is Texas’s first Hispanic Republican member of the Texas Senate—a major win for the Texas GOP amid hype by the media and Washington elites about the coming “blue wave.” While we both enjoyed our enchiladas, I asked Flores a few questions about the race and his plan for the upcoming legislative session.
What made your campaign unique? What ultimately led to flipping this traditionally blue district?
State Sen. Pete Flores: The first thing was believing that this wasn’t a traditionally blue district. They just happened to be the ones that were getting elected. I mean, there was 139 years, but the optimum Republican voting strength was always around 46 percent.
Of all the senate districts in Texas that were held by Democrats, this one was the weakest by five points. So that required effort, that required capital, it required organization and execution and it required a grassroots organization. But it also required a candidate who was not afraid to work—because it required a lot of work—and someone who’s a good fit. I was fortunate enough to be a good fit. I’m not afraid to work.
While we originally didn’t have the finances we needed, we still were able to make great inroads, and that provided for the beginning of the capital that we needed. When you combine all of that, this is what happens.
How did you end up running? Why did you do it?
PF: Basically it’s a continuation of public service. I’ve been a public servant my whole adult life as a State Game Warden, working all across the state in different capacities and different levels of responsibility, finishing off in Austin where I did four sessions working with the Legislature. I saw a need to step up once again. I have an aversion to anybody or any organization that thinks they own something and we had vestiges of that old “patron” democracy type of attitude in this district. It’s about public service, that’s why I’m in it.
During the special session last summer, Gov. Abbott laid out an agenda with 20 items he asked the Legislature to pass: items like property tax reform, ending the automatic deduction of labor union dues, and strengthening the state spending limit. Do you support those items?
PF: The number one item that you mentioned, which is property tax reform, is the top ticket item on our agenda. And it is on the governor’s, and it is on the lieutenant governor’s, and I hope it will be on the agenda of the new Speaker of the House, that we will be able to go forward and make some significant reform to the property tax methodology in Texas. On the top end, that is the capping.
But most important to me and my constituents is the appraisal districts and how they go about that. That’s probably the part of the whole system that is completely out of control.
What problems do you hope to solve? What’s your agenda as a legislator?
PF: First one is property tax reform. We want to pay our fair share, it just needs to be fair and equitable—but it’s not. And it’s unsustainable to us, especially those of us that are middle class. But to everyone, actually, it’s unsustainable and cannot continue.
I’m on a fixed income. A lot of other people are on fixed incomes. And when you continue to raise your appraisals, which are basically just guesses… They’re guesses. They’re estimates. Yet it affects, for example, my mortgage; five hundred dollars and change per month, just to local property taxes. And it’s probably going to go up again, and again, and again. So, the methodology is not fair.
Each county does it their own way, 254 different ways of doing it. And each appraiser comes up with their own method. It’s a stacked deck against us and that has to be fixed. And the representatives that are serving on the boards are appointed by the taxing entities. Those boards need to be composed at the bare minimum, by elected officials, so they’re responsible directly to the voters and not insulated. And there have to be checks and balances. Our constitutional republic is based on checks and balances. That’s one aspect of government that has very little oversight and needs checks and balances.
How do you think your fellow legislators will receive your proposals on property taxes, being that you are a grassroots candidate?
PF: I don’t care who you are, you’re getting hit. They’re getting hit. I’m getting hit. Whether you’re rich or poor, we’re getting hit, all of us, uniformly, across the board. It’s going to be received well.
Who in the Texas Senate has voted consistent with your beliefs? Who will serve as a mentor to you as you enter the Legislature?
PF: It all depends on the issue, so I really can’t name one because each one champions different things. I believe we are all primarily conservatives and do everything that “conservative” means. Limited government—we want our budget to be balanced, we want our money to be spent wisely, we want quality schools.
To name one legislator would not be fair, but I know how I’m going to vote: I’m gonna vote for what’s good for the district first and what’s good for the state based on my principles of conservatism. And I will work with the other side of the aisle on issues that benefit the district and the state as long as we stay out of the partisan weeds.
What have you learned since winning your campaign that you didn’t know before?
PF: I’m not afraid of hard work, but there’s a lot of hard work. If you’re going to get into this, you need to learn that you work as a team. It’s not you standing alone, but a whole team of people who are behind ideas that are similar, and believe in the “why” you’re doing this and not the “what.” Then you have to learn that it takes money.
It’s a sad part of the system but it takes people to believe enough to donate and fund the campaign. It’s like any other thing: you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to raise money, then spend it wisely and strategically. It’s like an investment. It’s not squandered or taken for granted. Somebody worked hard for that treasure and donated it to the cause.
Are you planning on running for re-election and what do you think you have to do to earn your constituents’ vote?
PF: The answer is yes. I’m planning to run for re-election. And what do I have to do to earn my constituents’ vote? Do exactly that: earn it, not take it for granted.
We do that by going to the Legislature and doing what we said we were going to do. And if we don’t accomplish it, we explain to them why not. But then we’re going to go after it again. That’s why they elected me to go accomplish what we said we were going to do. For example, property taxes; if we come out with the reform we believe that we’re going to have in the next session, that’s a big deal. All of the people in this big district know that I represent them all, all of them.
What do Texas Republicans need to do to compete and win districts like yours?
PF: Do what we did. And that is, like any other organization, if you’re not united in purpose, if you’re not coordinated in your efforts, you’re not going to get anywhere. We were united. What this campaign brought together was Republicans from across the spectrum, no matter where they stood, no matter how they felt about each other personally. From the precinct level all the way to organizations who say, “We don’t like them.” But all agreed that in this campaign we needed to win. This was an all-hands-on-deck approach. Which should be the thing we remember as we move forward as Republicans.
What is our purpose? What is the purpose of the Republican Party? What is the purpose of your organization? If you don’t know the purpose, then you’re lost. But if you remember that we’re here to espouse our values, and that we stand for certain values—that our purpose is to recruit and elect Republicans—then it’s clear. And when we move together, not as yes-men but as partners with a common purpose, what happens is we get elected like we did here after 139 years. That’s how it’s done.
The success of Flores, as well as the rest of the conservatives’ legislative agenda, is extremely dependent on the outcome of the November election. Voters can’t take favorable poll data for granted. If conservatives want a successful legislative session led by principled leaders, conservatives must unite and vote. As Flores’ election has shown, if Republicans unite around a conservative message and work hard, they can win in all areas of the state.