WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday morning that he would not run for reelection in 2020 — making him the fifth Texas Republican to announce his retirement from Congress.
"Serving my country as the Representative of the hardworking Texas families in the 17th Congressional District has been an honor and one of the greatest privileges of my life," Flores said in a statement. "Following the end of my current term in January 2021, I look forward to spending much more time with my family and our grandchildren," he said in a statement. "I also intend to resume business activities in the private sector and to stay politically active on a federal, state and local level."
Flores joins several other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and Will Hurd.
Retirements often happen around long stretches of recess. The first flood of Texans came as Congress let out for August recess. House Republicans have openly acknowledged in recent days that they anticipate more retirements to come as Congress returns to Washington next week.
Flores represents the 17th district, which stretches across a swath of Central Texas encompassing Waco, College Station and a small cut of north Austin. It is a reliably conservative district, and unlike the districts of several of the departing GOP Texans, the 17th did not see a marked Democratic surge in the 2018 midterms. His departure does not seem to be one of retreat in the face of steeper reelection odds.
Raised in a blue-collar family on a Panhandle farm, Flores emerged from a hard-scrabble youth to climb the ladder of the Texas oil world. He built a successful business career as chief financial officer of Marine Drilling Cos. and later as the president and CEO of Phoenix Exploration.
In 2010, Flores ran for Congress as a political outsider, with no prior government experience, trumpeting instead his business acumen. The race was one of the most intensely watched across the country because his opponent, Chet Edwards, was widely considered the most unlikely Democrat in Washington. For 20 years, Edwards held down a deeply conservative district in what was widely touted as a gravity-defying Houdini act, surviving cycle after cycle even after the 17th district was gerrymandered explicitly to bring him down.
But the combination of a Republican-favored environment and a well-run Flores campaign was enough to sink the longtime Democrat.
In Washington, Flores has carved out senior leadership in the Republican caucus, chairing the largest voting bloc in the House, the Republican Study Committee, for two years. And in 2015, he voiced his interest in running for speaker of the House if then-Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan declined the entreaties of his colleagues to run. At the time, Flores was one of three Texans mulling a run for speaker, along with Conaway and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, a reflection of the enormous sway that Texans held on Capitol Hill just a few years ago.
Early in Donald Trump’s ascent to Republican Party prominence, Flores was a vocal critic of his rise. After the then-presidential candidate questioned the motives of a federal judge based on his Mexican descent, Flores rejected him. "I was incredibly angry to see Mr. Trump question a judge’s motives because of his ethnicity," he said, though he left open the door at the time to voting for Trump. In 2017, Flores admonished the president for filling powerful White House positions with his own children.
When Flores was first elected in 2010, The Texas Tribune questioned whether he might be “Congressman for life.” He indicated in 2015 he was not long for a congressional career, telling the Tribune, "I didn’t run to become part of the leadership of the House. I ran to try and advance conservative principles. In terms of committee chairmanship positions, I haven’t been here long enough to do that. I will term-limit myself probably before I would have enough seniority to get a committee chairmanship."
As Democrats were on the brink of assuming power last November, Flores pushed back on the notion that a wave of retirements could come this year.
"Let the dust settle a little bit," he said in November. "There were a couple close races, and you have some people who have been here awhile. It's certainly logical that they'd think about that. But I haven't seen any indications so far that anybody is."