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Republican flips Texas House seat Vela won by 13 points in 2020

Winner Mayra Flores, daughter of migrant workers, says Democrats act entitled to Latino votes

Texas congressional candidate Mayra Flores participates in a news conference to announce the formation of the Hispanic Leadership Trust at Republican National Committee headquarters on May 17.
Texas congressional candidate Mayra Flores participates in a news conference to announce the formation of the Hispanic Leadership Trust at Republican National Committee headquarters on May 17. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The daughter of migrant workers, Republican Mayra Flores flipped a Democratic seat Tuesday in winning a special election in Texas’ 34th District, though the seat may flip back in November.

Flores defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez and two other candidates in the special election to fill the remainder of Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela’s term, which runs through January. She had 51 percent to Sanchez’s 43 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 10:13 p.m. Central with an estimated 99 percent of the vote counted.

Born in Burgos, a city in Tamaulipas, Mexico, Flores came to the United States around the age of 6 with her parents. She remembers them putting in hours at a peanut factory and in cotton fields. 

Vela had been in the seat since 2013 and left in March to work as a lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to call a special election rather than leaving it vacant until November was a sign Republicans thought they could capture it and show momentum heading into the midterms. 

Republican groups spent more heavily on the race than Democrats, and Flores raised $1.1 million through May 25, to Sanchez’s $146,000. But the seat in the next Congress will be more Democratic through redistricting, going from one President Joe Biden won by 4 points in 2020 to one Biden would have won by 16 points. 

In November, Flores will face Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in the election for a full term. Gonzalez is currently the 15th District incumbent, but he decided to run in the open 34th after the GOP-controlled legislature redrew his district to be much more competitive.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer, R-Minn., issued a statement congratulating Flores on her “history making” victory.

“This election was a referendum on Democrats’ reckless policies that created a border crisis, led to record-high inflation, and sent gas prices soaring,” Emmer said. “I look forward to working with Mayra in Washington.”

Flores told CQ Roll Call that her candidacy served as a challenge to the Democratic establishment. She criticized Vela’s time in Congress as ineffective for his constituents and characterized the Democratic Party as feeling entitled to the South Texas vote while putting forth very little effort.

“Prior to me running, no one cared about our district or who we were or what we had to say,” she said. 

 The 2022 election cycle marked Flores’ first bid for political office, and she quit her job as a respiratory care practitioner to run. She acknowledged that her leap straight to the federal level of government baffled some people.

“Why? … People ask me that all the time,” she said. “And I was like, I have no idea. And so yeah. I really don’t know why.”

Her first foray into politics was in 2017, when she joined her county’s Republican Party as the Hispanic outreach chair. She had switched allegiances from the Democratic Party to the GOP seven years earlier, she said.

“When a family member of mine told me what each party stood for, [I felt] that my values align with the Republican Party,” she said. 

She is looking to make changes to the immigration system during her tenure in Congress.

“People that are in Mexico and put in their documents, it takes 15 to 20 years to be able to come here the right way,” she said. “I believe that we need to focus on the legal process, hiring more immigration judges, more asylum officers to make the process faster.”

Flores and her husband, border patrol officer John Flores, have four children and live in Harlingen, Texas.

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