Mexican-Born Texas House Candidate Rides Rightward Latino Drift to Historic Victory

Bienvenido In Action

Jun 16, 2022

With her win in Tuesday’s special election, Mayra Flores will be the first Republican since Reconstruction to represent Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in Congress.

The decisive win by the 36-year-old healthcare worker who was born in Mexico, the daughter of migrant workers, highlights the continued rightward drift of South Texas, which had long been viewed as a safe Democratic stronghold. After flipping the House seat in Texas’ 34th Congressional District, Flores will be the first Mexican-born Republican member of Congress, and the first Mexican-born congresswoman.

Flores won 51 percent of the vote to Democrat Dan Sanchez’s 43 percent.

“I don’t think we understand how incredible, historical that win is,” said Abraham Enriquez, founder and president of Bienvenido, a conservative organization focuses on engaging the Hispanic community. “We’re talking about a district that has been Democrat-controlled for far longer than my grandpa has been alive.”

The rightward political shift of South Texas became evident in 2020, when then-president Donald Trump grew support in the largely Hispanic and rural region, where issues like gun rights, agriculture, oil and gas jobs, and border security are priorities. Flores focused her campaign on a slogan of “God, family, country,” which Enriquez described as “the heartbeat of the Latino community.”

“It’s important to note that Donald Trump made significant gains down here,” Enriquez said. “It’s even more important that a messenger like Myra took that torch and ran even further.”

During her campaign, Flores took an unabashedly hardline stance on border security.

Enriquez said there are misconceptions on both the left and right about how Hispanics and residents of South Texas view border politics. Many people in the community have friends and colleagues who are undocumented. But, Enriquez said, they also generally support a secure border, “and they want an immigration system that works efficiently for everyone.”

Democrats, he said, typically assume incorrectly that Hispanic voters in South Texas are against border security, and Republicans historically have been hesitant to target voters with messages in support of border security. “The community here in South Texas has a very sophisticated view on the border,” Enriquez said.

Part of the reason Republicans are winning more votes in South Texas is because the Democratic Party has drifted far to the left, Enriquez said. But flipping the House seat also required a candidate with strong values and a compelling story, like Flores, he said.

According to her online biography, Flores was born in the small town of Burgos, in Tamaulipas, Mexico, south of Monterrey and Brownsville, Texas. Her parents were migrant workers, and she moved legally to the U.S. when she was six years old. As a girl, she worked alongside her parents in the cottonfields to earn money to pay for school clothes and supplies.

She received her bachelor’s degree from South Texas College, and works as a respiratory care practitioner. Her husband works for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“Her story resonates so well, with not only the people of South Texas, but Latinos all across the country,” Enriquez said. “No one has to talk to Mayra about the American dream.”

“It takes stories like hers, testimony like hers, in order for millions of Latinos who are voting Democrat, because they think they have to, to waken and realize the Republican Party is the party of the conservative movement, is a movement that is fostering and growing these relationships and these stories,” Enriquez added.

Critics claim that Flores’ win on Tuesday comes with an asterisk. She’s a temporary placeholder, they say, and a clear underdog to win re-election in November, meaning she will likely be in office for only seven months.

Flores was initially planning to run in November to replace the retiring Democratic congressman Filemon Vela, in the 34th District, which was made more Democratic-leaning during redistricting. She was expected to face Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, a well-funded Democrat representing the neighboring 15th Congressional District, who was moving east to run in the newly redrawn and more favorable 34th.

Tuesday’s special election arose when Vela retired early. Gonzalez wasn’t going to give up his seat in the 15th to run in the special election – creating another special election in his district —  so Sanchez, a former Democratic county commissioner in Brownsville, threw his hat in the ring. Democrats say Sanchez was at a disadvantage, because Flores already had her campaign apparatus in place for November, and she was running in the previous district lines, which were less favorable for Democrats.

But Enriquez said Sanchez was no underdog in a district that has supported Democrats in every election since the 19th Century. “Myra fought tooth and nail for this election,” he said.

Flores will face Gonzalez in November, and while she may be an underdog on paper, she’s now the incumbent, Enriquez said, and her win Tuesday shows what she and her supporters can do.

“I think this momentum, and this grassroots work, and this coalition of great voters is just going to grow even bigger by the time we get to November,” he said. “I think November is going to be super exciting. I think if people haven’t jumped on the Myra train by now, they for sure will be jumping on in November.”