U.S. Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election next year, ending his decadelong tenure in Congress representing Waco, Bryan-College Station and other communities.
Flores, 65, a Bryan Republican in his fifth term representing the 17th Congressional District, said he is eager to spend more time with his family, including four grandchildren.
“When I originally announced that I was running for Congress in 2009, I was firm in my commitment that I would run for six or fewer terms,” he said in a press release. “After much prayer over the past few days and following conversations with my wife, Gina, during that time, I have decided that my current term will be my last.”
In an interview, Flores said stepping down will be “bittersweet.”
“This is an incredibly fulfilling position, particularly when you see good things happen for your constituents,” he said. “It can also be incredibly frustrating when people put politics ahead of good policy.”
Flores, an oil exploration company executive, came to power in 2010, defeating Congressman Chet Edwards, a Waco Democrat who had been in Congress for 20 years.
His victory came amid a tea party insurgency that swept many long-tenured Democrats out of Congress. Flores went on to serve from 2015 to 2017 as chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee caucus and on various House committees, including Energy and Commerce.
Flores said his voting record has reflected the “center right” views of the district, which includes a sliver in Austin, a chunk of the Brazos Valley and stretches to the Trinity River east of Interstate 45.
“I think I am more conservative than the district, but my voting patterns represent the district at the end of the day,” he said. “I think my job is to represent the mean ideology of the district.”
Asked about his accomplishments over the last decade, Flores pointed first to efforts in his own district, including emergency and recovery funds for West after the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion. He said West is an “incredibly resilient community” that would have recovered on its own, but “we were able to do some great things to help West get back on its feet.”
Flores has been part of the minority party in the House since the 2018 election, but in his announcement lists several legislative goals he wants to accomplish before he retires.
“During the upcoming weeks and months, I will be working with the Trump administration and my congressional colleagues to rebuild our military; to secure our border; to grow our economy through tax reform and regulatory reform; to restore fiscal soundness to the federal budget; to remove the uncertainty related to the ‘dreamers’ in our country; to rebuild our critical infrastructure; to help enact the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement and other international trade reforms; to facilitate the accelerated deployment of 5G technologies; to enact common-sense reforms for prescription drug costs and health care; and to maintain America’s energy dominance,” he said in his announcement.
Flores voted in late 2017 for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a $1.5 trillion package that some analysts have blamed for a rising deficit. The U.S. budget deficit so far this fiscal year is $867 billion, up 27% over the previous year.
Flores said federal revenue is up despite the tax cuts.
“America doesn’t have a revenue problem,” he said. “A lot of people try to say tax cuts hurt revenue. What America has is a spending problem. … Until Congress grapples with the big, gnarly issues, the deficit is not going to be solved.
“What we need to do is have a good, hard, honest discussion about how you can make Social Security and Medicare sustainable, how to protect our current retirees and also our grandkids’ generation.”
Flores said he intends to remain politically active after he leaves office in January 2021. He said he has been contacted by “thoughtful leaders” in his district who might be interested in running for his seat, and he hopes to be involved in the general election campaign of whoever wins the primary next spring.
He also intends to find part-time work in the private sector and get involved with more charitable activities along with his wife.
“I’ve got enough energy and passion that I think I can be useful,” he said.
Jon Ker, McLennan County Republican Party chairman, said he was surprised but not shocked at Flores’ announcement.
“I am not shocked because Bill has said from the time he first ran that he would do no more than six terms, and this is his fifth,” Ker said. “As I understand it, he gave a lot of consideration and prayer to not running the last time, although I am certainly glad he did. I am just wondering now who might take his place.”
Ker said the party will “have to do some analyzing and searching” for Flores’ successor.
“In my estimation, Bill Flores has done our nation and our district a great service,” Ker said. “He was always for the businessman, always for the military and always for our religion and speech freedoms. My hat is off to him. I hate to see him go but I do understand.”
Ker, a retired Army colonel in the Green Berets, said he sees Flores’ biggest accomplishments through the eyes of an “old military guy.”
“We had seen our military capabilities, strengths and funding reduced over the Obama years, and Bill took a lot of heat on some of the votes he made,” Ker said. “But it was packed with making the military strong, viable and effective again. My hat is off to Bill because without a strong military, we have no security, and that helped our district. Although Fort Hood is not in his district, helping Fort Hood helps Central Texas.”
McLennan County Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Duty celebrated Flores’ announcement and said she looks forward to a likely Democratic District 17 primary race involving Rick Kennedy, whom Flores defeated last year, and another candidate who has yet to announce.
Flores’ decision obviously will change the tenor of the campaign, she said.
“I don’t want to dance on anybody’s grave, but Flores was a yes man from the beginning,” Duty said. “He didn’t want the job in the first place and I don’t think his heart was ever in it.”
Duty said she has dogged Flores for years for not having in-person, town hall meetings with constituents and for his support for President Donald Trump.
“Deep in his heart, I think he is a decent man,” Duty said. “But I remember asking him after the president was elected what he was going to tell his granddaughters about how he was supporting a man who grabs women by their private parts. I didn’t use those words. I used the word the president used. I asked him how he could do that, and he almost fell out of his chair.”
Kennedy, a software engineer from Wells Branch in northern Travis County, said that while he knew Flores had been considering retirement, his decision still came as a bit of a surprise with no advance warning.
“It certainly changes the environment of the campaign, but it doesn’t change the reasons why I am running and it won’t change my message, either,” Kennedy said. “I am running because I feel like Congress is not serving the needs of the people and congressmen are more interested in putting donors and party ahead of constituents. The problems and policies we face are not going to change. It doesn’t really matter who I am going to run against.”
Kennedy said he will continue to talk about the economy, health care and immigration. He said those tend to be the top issues being discussed districtwide. He said he is convinced he can win the race as a Democrat even though the district leans considerably in favor of Republicans.
“I certainly think that needle is moving,” Kennedy said. “People are beginning to experience the results of the Republican policy decisions in the last 10 years and some are starting to rethink how they might cast their vote and what is important.
“By many measures, there is a looming downturn toward recession. When Mr. Flores went to Congress 10 years ago, we had a $14 trillion deficit and by the time, hopefully, I enter Congress, it will be about $24 trillion. If we do enter a recession, we have very little ammunition to fight this.”
Waco attorney Wes Lloyd, who served six years as president of the McLennan County Republican Club, said he is considering a run for Flores’ seat.
“I am very concerned about the short time line before the primary and finding the right person,” Lloyd said. “I’m open to the idea.”
Lloyd, 41, was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Brazos River Authority board and is a former precinct chairman.
When C. Ivan Stoltzfus pulled into the parking lot of St. Paul Lutheran Church on his modified 1948 John Deere Model A tractor on Wednesday evening, he had some stories to share from his 4,000-plus miles on the road and the experiences that inspired his cross-country journeys.
“I started seeing friends that came back from the war who tried to adjust back into civil life and the pain from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and that just hit me,” Stoltzfus said. “I just thought I needed to do something to bring awareness and let them know that someone is listening to those stories.”
Though the retired Pennsylvania farmer and part-time auctioneer has not served in the military, he decided he could do some good for veterans in need by taking his love of farming on the road. Stoltzfus partnered his organization, Across America for Wounded Heroes, with Operation Second Chance to benefit wounded and struggling veterans.
In May, he started his third trip across the country since 2014, collecting money for Operation Second Chance along his routes.
“First time I met him was in 2017 and it was just by coincidence,” Waco Antique Farm Machinery Club President Van Massirer said. “I went into the barber shop to get a haircut one day and the lady who cuts my hair, she knows I’m into old tractors, and she asked me if I saw that old tractor pull through town with a trailer.”
Out of curiosity, Massirer left the barber shop and went down to Tonkawa Falls RV Park and found the 1948 John Deere tractor and camper parked at the site, he said. Massirer and Stoltzfus exchanged stories and phone numbers with the agreement that if Stoltzfus came back through McLennan County, he would call Massirer.
“So, he called me and asked if I remembered that promise I made him in ’17,” Massirer said. “Anything I could do to help, I was going to do.”
Massirer and dozens of McLennan County residents gathered Wednesday evening for a pot luck dinner at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Stoltzfus entertained with stories from his first two cross-country trips, made at 14 to 15 mph in his tractor, modified with a Peterbilt truck cab fitting on top and pulling a travel trailer. He said he typically covers 60 to 70 miles a day.
“I think this is great, absolutely great. He is doing something for the troops,” said Wade Bottoms, a Speegleville resident who served 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a sergeant first class. “This is impressive. I am thankful someone recognizes and does something, because a lot of vets might not have spent 20 years in, but they’ve gone through a lot.”
Inside his tractor, Stoltzfus said he spends a lot of time thinking about veterans he meets, especially the veterans who live with mental health issues brought on by their service. He said he is collecting stories and phone numbers along the way with plans to share stories after his journey.
“So far, I’m over 4,000 miles, but this trip will probably be over 5,500 when I end it in October in Sarasota, (Florida),” he said. “I’m going to be close to 17,000 miles on my tractor for all three trips, but I love hearing the stories and knowing I can do something to give back to the men and women that give me this freedom.”
Stoltzfus said he plans to finish his “horseshoe” route next month.
To make a donation or follow Stoltzfus, visit operationsecondchance.org/aafwh-home.
AUSTIN — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday rejected calls from Democrats for immediate votes on new gun safety measures in Texas following a violent August that began and ended with mass shootings that left 29 people dead and injured dozens more.
The Texas Legislature doesn’t meet again until 2021. That means any new Texas laws in response to two gunmen — both armed with assault-style rifles — opening fire at a Walmart in El Paso and an hour-long rampage in West Texas are at least two years away, unless the governor takes the rare step of ordering an emergency legislative session.
But Abbott, an avid gun-rights supporter, has shown no appetite for doing so. Following the Labor Day weekend attack in Odessa that killed seven people, Abbott said “words must be followed by meaningful action” to prevent more mass shootings in Texas. But Democrats say the governor isn’t working fast enough and that his recent roundtable meetings on gun violence are insufficient.
“There’s only one person that stands in the way of us having this dialogue and these communications in a meaningful way and maybe, just maybe, create laws that will protect Texans, and that’s the governor,” Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said.
Hours after Democrats demanded a special session on gun violence Wednesday, Abbott tweeted that he would announce executive actions and legislative proposals in the coming days but did not offer details. He added: “Legislators can be part of the process or part of the problem.”
Although Abbott did not explicitly rule out calling a special session, his office criticized the haste to begin taking votes.
“Governor Abbott made clear in Odessa that all strategies are on the table that will lead to laws that make Texans safer. But that doesn’t include a helter skelter approach that hastily calls for perfunctory votes that divide legislators along party lines,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the gunman in last weekend’s rampage in the Permian Basin that killed seven people obtained his AR-style rifle through a private sale, allowing him to evade a federal background check that blocked him from getting a gun in 2014 due to a “mental health issue. The official spoke to the Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Officers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles and lasted more than an hour, injuring around two dozen people in addition to the dead. He spread terror across the two biggest cities in the Permian Basin while firing indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has said Ator had tried purchasing a firearm in January 2014 but was denied. Since the El Paso shooting on Aug. 3 that killed 22 people, Abbott has raised concerns about private firearms sales but has not endorsed or offered any specific proposals.
In 2018, fewer than 100,000 people failed a background check. Of those, the vast majority were for having been convicted of a crime that made them ineligible. Far fewer, just over 6,000, were rejected for a mental health issue.
Texas laws allows a person to deny a handgun license based on a person’s mental health history, but that restriction only applies to the license to carry a handgun, not buying one.
The shooting on Labor Day weekend came just four weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. It brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database.
Taking care of a loved one can take a toll, but when it comes to sleep deprivation that toll can be invisible.
Baylor University sleep researchers found caregivers for dementia patients typically lose sleep but that simple strategies can help them get the rest they need, according to a recently published analysis. Doctoral candidate and lead author Chenlu Gao and Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory Director Michael Scullin analyzed 35 studies on the impact of dementia on the patients’ caregivers and found they typically lose between 2.5 and 3.5 hours of sleep a week.
“Our lab has always been interested in understanding the consequences of dementia,” Gao said. “We want to help dementia patients, and through that we realized that dementia not only affects the patients, but affects the people around the patients.”
Scullin said existing research on the topic was scattered, and he hopes the new study will encourage discussion of sleep in caregiver groups and more broadly. He said the experiences of the more than 3,000 individuals in the studies they analyzed tend to follow a handful of themes.
“They have difficulty falling asleep because they’ve got a ton on their mind,” Scullin said. “They’ve got a ton to do every day, and it’s tough to turn off their mind. They’re not just worried about the things they’ve got to get done. They’re worrying about the physical and mental health and well-being of someone who they love.”
Interrupted sleep because of stress, preoccupation or being woken up to care for their loved ones also contribute to sleep loss, leaving them drained during the day and leading to a cycle of sleep deprivation.
Gao said with sleep deprivation comes impacts on mental and physical health as well as cognitive ability, particularly memory, which could result in missed doctor’s appointments, skipped medications or other errors. Missing sleep also opens caregivers to developing depression, she said.
“We know that if people are not sleeping well, they may have trouble regulating their mood, especially for caregivers, because they’re going through a lot of stress” Gao said.
Scullin said not everyone who experiences sleep deprivation will experience those effects, but the probability increases. Sleep loss has ubtle, cumulative, insidious effects over time, he said.
“We tell ourselves we’ve recovered after a night of good sleep, but we’re normally overestimating that,” Scullin said. “So, if you’re thinking of cutting back just 20 or 30 minutes a night, it’s not a big deal on that specific night, but if you go all week, now you’re more emotionally reactive, you have less vigilance, you’re sleepier, but the kicker is you might not realize why.”
The new study concludes that while caring for a loved one with dementia is stressful and demanding by nature, simple steps or “low-cost behavioral interventions,” can improve sleep quality.
“What we found from those studies we reviewed is that behavioral interventions are most effective,” Gao said. “Those are really simple behavioral strategies that caregivers can use.”
She said getting sunlight in the morning and exercising help people sleep more soundly, as does a consistent sleep schedule.
“People don’t realize that getting morning sunlight is really important to setting circadian rhythms throughout the day,” Scullin said. “It allows you to feel alert at the times you should feel alert and sleepy at the times you should feel sleepy.”
He said sunlight in the morning is also a standard treatment for a dementia patient who is not sleeping well.
“Waco is terribly hot this time of year, but you find ways to make it work,” Scullin said.
The study was inspired in part by a meeting with the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, he said.
“A few years ago when our lab was opening we reached out to them, because we have studied sleep and Alzheimer’s, sleep and aging, for a number of years,” Scullin said. “They really took to the idea that not just the patients, but the caregivers, have difficulty sleeping.”
He and Gao followed up by visiting with support groups and giving presentations about sleep deprivation. Scullin said they received a telling response from group members, and later led discussions on sleep at the association’s annual caregiver seminar.
“We decided a more systematic approach was needed,” Scullin said. “Not enough people we’re recognizing that sleep health was an issue among caregivers.”