Different journeys to Congress for Texas newcomers

By MICHAEL GRACZYK/None
Nov. 3, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.

HOUSTON (AP) - Texas' two newest congressmen took different paths to Washington.

Bill Flores heads to the House in January as District 17 winner, defeating incumbent Chet Edwards, in his first try for public office a year after he retired from a Houston-based oil and gas company.

"If you asked me two years ago what I would be doing Nov. 3, 2010, I never would had dreamed I'd be congressman-elect in District 17," Flores said Wednesday from Bryan.

Fellow Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco, who bounced incumbent Democrat Ciro Rodriguez in District 23, is more a product of perseverance.

The 61-year-old San Antonio real estate lawyer and banker lost to Rep. Henry Cuellar four years ago in the neighboring 28th District. In 2004, he lost in a GOP primary runoff in the district.

In 2008, he spent $1 million of his own money to get the GOP nomination to run against Rodriguez. He lost in the primary. And earlier this year, he gained the Republican nomination only after an April runoff. He'd finished second in the six-candidate party primary where no one got at least 50 percent of the vote.

"I think what we did was build on the backs of the other races," Canseco said Wednesday. "It was part persistence and part recognizing the previous forays were learning experiences."

Both join the Texas delegation after campaigning as conservatives. They could be joined by another like-minded GOP newcomer in a third long-held Democratic district that remained too close to call Wednesday.

Flores, 56, views Ronald Reagan as a hero and among present congressmen admires Indiana's Mike Pence, a Reagan disciple who's been mentioned in the 2012 GOP presidential conversation.

Flores is an Aggie, putting himself through Texas A&M, where he graduated in 1976. He grew up in Stratford in the Texas Panhandle. His family came to Texas from Spain in 1721, making him a 9th-generation Texan.

He earned an MBA from Houston Baptist University, where he's on the Board of Trustees, worked as an accountant, in the energy service business and then oil and gas. He worked in Houston from 1977 until last year when he retired as CEO of Phoenix Exploration Co., an independent oil and gas company he co-founded.

"I retired with the vision of getting into public service," he said. "I was very concerned about the direction our country was going.

"Because of the fact I got to live the American dream first hand, I became very concerned future generations weren't going to have the same opportunity I had... I just decided it wasn't going to happen on my watch as a citizen and I decided to run."

Flores, father of two, touched on several conservative themes as he campaigned in the Central Texas district that extends from Bryan-College Station through Waco and to southwest of Fort Worth. He said he opposes big government, believes life begins at conception, supports traditional marriage and wants to see enforcement of immigration laws.

Edwards, from Waco, held the seat for 20 years, tried to distance himself from President Barack Obama's policies and unsuccessfully touted what he said he was an independent voting record.

Flores' positions were mirrored by the Laredo-born Canseco, who will represent an expansive district from west of San Antonio to east of El Paso and from Pecos south to the Rio Grande.

He ran against government expansion and "out-of-control spending," pledged to work to overturn the new health care law and favored strong border security.

He called lack of a continuous and effective wall along the Texas-Mexico border "an insult to the people who live" there and said citizens deserved a Congress "with the courage and common sense to meet its constitutional duty of protecting our country." He advocated military assistance and "real barriers" along the border, plus more border patrol agents with better equipment.

Canseco, father of three grown children, has been a delegate to state and national GOP conventions and has participated in party activities for years. He's worked as a developer of shopping centers and stores from Laredo to Fort Worth, practiced law for more than three decades, and until last year was chairman of Texas Heritage Bancshares, the holding company of Hondo National Bank.

He credited his success in Tuesday's election after several defeats to "a large part, my character."

"I'm very persistent," he said Wednesday. "I started doing this as a novice in 2003. I felt I could do things a lot different and better for our country."

After a second loss, he "almost gave up," was encouraged to try again and was "successful in energizing the base and scooping up a lot of the independents and former Democrats."

A third congressional rookie - also a Republican - could join the Texas delegation. With more than 100,000 votes counted, Blake Farenthold had a 799-vote lead over longtime District 27 incumbent Solomon Ortiz in complete but unofficial returns Wednesday and declared victory.

The 73-year-old Ortiz has represented the district that stretches from Corpus Christi to Brownsville since it was created in 1982. He hadn't conceded.

Like Flores and Canseco, Farenthold, from Corpus Christi, ran against big government and for state and individual rights. He's been a lawyer, founded a computer and web design consulting firm and before his congressional bid co-hosted a conservative talk radio show in Corpus Christi.

The 48-year-old father of two is grandson of Frances "Sissy" Farenthold, a Democrat who served two terms in the state House. She ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1972, a year where she also finished second in balloting at the Democratic National Convention to become George McGovern's running mate.


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