After losing to a Democrat in 2020, former GOP state Sen. Pete Flores seeks election in newly drawn Republican district

State Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, on the Senate floor on April 9, 2019.

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Former state Sen. Pete Flores is mounting a comeback bid for the upper chamber — with significant support — in one of the first major examples of this year’s redistricting process creating new opportunities for Republican candidates.

The Pleasanton Republican announced Monday that he is running next year for Senate District 24, which was significantly redrawn in the first proposed map to include his hometown and to be safer for a Republican than his old district where he lost to a Democrat. Within hours, Flores got the endorsement of the current SD-24 incumbent, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, who is vacating the seat to run for land commissioner, and then Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate.

Flores lost reelection last year in Senate District 19 to San Antonio Democrat Roland Gutierrez after nabbing it from Democratic control in a 2018 special election upset that drew national attention.

“It’s not the old District 19, but it still encompasses the heartland of Texas, the parts of Texas I most closely identify with,” Flores said in a news release, referring to the draft SD-24. “I know the people and the ideas and values they hold dear.”

Things moved quickly after Flores’ announcement, with Buckingham endorsing him Monday afternoon and Patrick backing him Tuesday morning. Patrick said in a statement he needs Flores “back in the Texas Senate to continue to advance our conservative agenda for Texas.”

The newly proposed SD-24 is largely rural, jutting into Atascosa County to encompass almost all of Flores’ hometown of Pleasanton. It then curves north around the San Antonio area and farther up through the Hill Country and beyond Austin.

The draft of SD-24 went for for President Donald Trump by 18 percentage points last year, which would be a friendlier district for Flores than the one he previously held, SD-19. President Joe Biden carried that district by 8 points.

Under the proposed map, SD-19 would become more Democratic, morphing into a district that Biden won by 13 points.

Flores’ return to the chamber would add a Hispanic Republican to its ranks at a time when the GOP is pushing to make fresh inroads in South Texas, where President Joe Biden underperformed last year.

Ellen Troxclair, a Republican and former member of the Austin City Council, has been campaigning for SD-24 for months, unopposed by any other serious candidates. She launched her bid shortly after Buckingham announced in June that she was vacating the seat to run for land commissioner.

The first proposed boundaries for SD-24, however, appear to pose problems for Troxclair. Her campaign paperwork lists an address in the Austin suburb of Bee Cave, which would fall outside SD-24 under the new map.

The map will have to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“This map is only the first draft of many and will be vetted and tweaked in the weeks to come,” Troxclair said in a statement Monday. “The only certain thing about the current map is that it will change.”

Flores and Troxclair traded endorsements Tuesday. After Flores rolled out Patrick's support, Troxclair announced the backing of U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin. Flores than released the endorsement of former Gov. Rick Perry.

In a news release announcing Williams' endorsement, Troxclair's campaign alluded to the tension over the proposed 24th District, showing no sign of backing down.

"As political insiders wrestle for power over the evolving redistricting maps in Austin," the campaign said, "Troxclair continues to focus her attention on building grassroots support on the ground, fundraising, and earning endorsements.

The Legislature started its work in the third special session on Monday to redraw the district maps for the Texas House, Senate, State Board of Education and members of Congress. Lawmakers will craft those maps using the latest census data, which showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade.

Republicans control both chambers and will have every advantage throughout the 30-day process to better position their party for the next decade.

This is the first time in decades federal law allows Texas to draw and use political maps without first getting federal approval to ensure that they’re not disenfranchising the voting rights of people of color. That federal preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

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