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.
Tax cuts, deficits
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.