U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, will face a challenger from the Democratic Party when he seeks a fifth, two-year term representing Texas’ 17th Congressional District in November 2018.

The district is headed for a contested Democratic primary race in March, with two people already announcing their intention to run for the seat and others considering a run. Dale Mantey, 27, a doctoral student, and Scott Sturm, 43, a critical care paramedic, have announced they will run.

Mantey hosted a campaign kickoff event Thursday morning at the Waco Suspension Bridge. A Rockdale native pursing a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of Texas, Mantey said he aims to bring high-tech, manufacturing and engineering jobs to the district. Those jobs would focus on solar, wind and other renewable energy production.

“I’m an old Chet Edwards fan,” Mantey said, referring to the Democratic congressman who represented the district from 1991 to 2011.

“People do tend to vote party, but politics are local,” Mantey said. “When you talk about issues that impact (the district), we’re not presenting our platform as, ‘This is a left idea or right idea.’ ”

Mantey, who has worked professionally in chronic disease prevention, criticized Flores’ decision not hold town hall meetings in April. Flores instead held two conference calls broadcast on Facebook Live and made an appearance on a radio call-in show.

“(Edwards) would come out to Milam County and the small towns,” Mantey said. “Bill Flores won’t come to the small towns, let alone cities. He won’t be in any way, shape or form accountable for us.”

Sturm’s inspiration

Sturm, the other Democrat to officially announce his candidacy, is living in New Braunfels, outside of the district. He said he was inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, last year during his presidential campaign.

“I believe in single-payer Medicare for all,” Sturm said. “Allow everyone in this country, every single man, woman and child, to be covered.”

Sturm also said he supports granting visas to undocumented immigrants who are hardworking and law-abiding. He supports making college more affordable and raising the minimum wage.

“Congress has become a partisan battleground, and it shouldn’t be,” Sturm said. “It shouldn’t be all about partisan politics. It should be about the people. Period.”

Others mulling run

Local Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Duty said several other Democrats are mulling a run for Flores’ seat. She said that group includes William Matta, a McLennan Community College department chair who received 34.5 percent of the vote against Flores last November in his first run for public office.

“I think the message the Democratic Party is trying to put out there, especially in 2018, is this is what we’re for,” Duty said. “This is how we can help Central Texans. This is how we can transform last century’s jobs into this century’s jobs.”

In a statement to the Tribune-Herald for this story, Flores’ press office said the congressman “remains focused on the priorities that the people of Central Texas and the Brazos Valley have repeatedly elected him to help solve: unleashing our economy to help create good-paying jobs for our hardworking families, strengthening the security of our nation to deal with an increasingly dangerous world, and limiting the growth of government so our families and businesses are free from the heavy hand of federal regulations.”

District 17 includes all or parts of McLennan, Bastrop, Brazos, Burleson, Falls, Freestone, Lee, Leon, Limestone, Milam, Robertson and Travis counties.

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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