U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, seeking re-election, lashed out at his GOP foe shortly after Bill Flores captured his party’s nomination in an April 13 primary runoff.
In an "Opening Statement" campaign video posted online April 14, Edwards says the race will focus on his championing of veterans and his work for jobs and economic development. Edwards goes on to say Flores “has been recruited by Washington, D.C., insiders to try to buy our district's congressional seat with millions of dollars he has made as a Houston oil executive even though he has never once voted in a general election in our district — not even once.”
The charge that a wealthy candidate is trying to "buy" elective office is common in politics; for this article, we're looking at whether Edwards accurately depicts Flores’ voting history as a resident of the conservative-leaning 17th Congressional District. It covers more than 7,700 square miles in 12 counties, stretching from the suburbs of Fort Worth, south through Waco and east to Bryan/College Station.
To back Edwards’ claim that Flores has never voted in a general election in the district, Edwards’ campaign pointed us to a Washington blog post and an article in the Dallas Morning News. Those reports and others published by the Waco Tribune-Herald and online Texas Tribune don't spell out all of Flores’ voting history. But they touch on Flores voting in the 2008 Democratic primary. At that time, Rob Curnock was running unopposed in the GOP primary to challenge Edwards. In this year's primary runoff in April, Flores defeated Curnock to win his party's nod for the House seat.
The Tribune's March 29 article quotes Matt Mackowiak, Flores’ campaign manager, saying Flores voted in that Democratic primary in order to oppose then-Sen. Barack Obama for president, fearing Obama “would take our country far to the left.” Mackowiak is also quoted saying he doesn’t know which Democratic presidential candidate Flores voted for. Later that year, Mackowiak said, Flores phone-banked for GOP nominee John McCain on the day of the November election, got stuck in business meetings and was unable to leave in time to vote in the general election.
To independently gauge Flores’ voting history, we contacted Brazos County. Flores, who lives in Bryan, has said his wife moved to the county in 2006, according to a voter guide posted online by the Dallas Morning News. Mackowiak said Flores lived in College Station while the couple's house was being built in nearby Bryan.
Kathy Schuetze, the county’s voter registration coordinator, told us records show Flores voting five times there: the 2010 GOP primary and runoffs, fall 2009 elections related to the Bryan Independent School District and proposed state constitutional amendments, plus the 2008 Democratic primary
Trying another source, we contacted Democratic pollster Jeff Smith of Austin, who maintains a statewide voter database. Smith said his database indicates that Flores registered to vote in Brazos County in December 2006. He said that while Flores missed the 2008 general election, Flores' wife, Gina Bass Flores, did vote then.
So, there's no indication Flores has voted in a general election in the district. Then again, we wondered if the 2009 balloting on proposed constitutional amendments also was a general election because it occurred on a date that state law defines as the possible date of a special or general election -- the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
Randall Dillard, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State, which oversees elections, said many voters might have thought they were voting in a general election. However, Dillard noted, the Texas Election Code defines a general election as an election, other than a primary, that regularly recurs at fixed dates. In contrast, state legislators pick the dates of elections on proposed constitutional amendments.
Flores' voting record drew questions earlier this year. Flores said at a February debate that he voted for Curnock in the 2008 general election -- then later said he'd been joking, according to an online post by the Lone Star Project, a pro-Democratic group.
We sought to interview Flores. Mackowiak declined our request. He also confirmed that Flores has yet to vote in a general election in the district.
We rate Edwards’ statement as True.