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88th TEXAS LEGISLATURE: Sen. Pete Flores talks priorities

Texas District 24 Sen. Pete Flores with Gov. Greg Abbott

Newly elected state Sen. Pete Flores with Gov. Greg Abbott on the Texas Senate floor during Flores’ first term of office in 2018. Defeated in 2020, Flores was elected to a newly drawn district in 2022 and will be sworn in to office at noon Tuesday, Jan. 10. District 24 represents 13 counties, including Burnet and Llano counties. Courtesy photo

DailyTrib.com sat down with Burnet County’s two new state-elected officials, Rep. Ellen Troxclair and Sen. Pete Flores, to talk about the upcoming Texas legislative session, which runs from Jan. 10 through May 29. The following story is based on the interview with Flores. For Troxclair’s interview, click here.

Burnet and Llano counties will have a new state senator in the Texas Legislature when the 88th session convenes at noon Tuesday, Jan. 10, in the Capitol in Austin. Republican Pete Flores of Pleasanton will take his oath of office to represent a newly drawn District 24, a 13-county district that also includes Atascosa, Bandera, Bell, Coryell, Gillespie, Kerr, Kimble, Lampasas, Medina, Sutton, and Williamson counties.

Although newly elected, Flores is not new to the job. He served as the senator for District 19 in the 86th Legislature from 2018-21. 

He was the first Hispanic Republican state senator in Texas history and the first Republican to be elected in that district since 1879, which was during the Reconstruction period. He was defeated by his Democratic challenger in 2020 but successfully sought the office again in 2022, taking over the position from Dawn Buckingham, who was elected Texas land commissioner in the November mid-term.

“I ran again because of unfinished business, mainly in property tax reform,” Flores told DailyTrib.com over lunch one day in December. “I want to make sure we are setting up Texas for the future.” 

By that he means investing in infrastructure, particularly energy. Like many state officials, he has his eyes on a $27 billion prize that is the current state budget surplus. 

He wants to use some of the money to lower the school property tax burden on Texans but emphatically pointed out it is not recurring funding, so not a long-term solution to supporting public education. 

Also, the state constitution restricts how much of the surplus can be spent without the Legislature voting for an exception to the constitutional restriction. 

“It’s not wise to spend all that money,” Flores said. “There are hurricanes and other disasters we have to be prepared for. In the 86th session, we spent billions making up for the damage by Hurricane Ike.”

Flores supports spending some of the surplus on infrastructure investment, such as strengthening the electrical grid and making sure teacher and employee retirement funds are financially sound. He’s not forgetting about school taxes, though. 

As a state senator in the 86th Legislature, he was part of the team that wrote, supported, and passed House Bill 3, which raised the state’s contribution to the maintenance and operating budgets of public schools. 

“If we continue to raise the state’s contribution to M&O, that’s less that school districts have to tax the homeowners for,” he said, although he added a word of caution. “We cannot just go over there and flip a switch and say no more property taxes. We can only incrementally move the needle. Eventually, we will have to think of something better to fund our schools.”

With 13 counties representing 930,000 people, Flores has more constituents than many U.S. senators and more than most U.S. representatives. That number is up from 630,000 when he was elected in 2018. He still plans a hands-on approach to governing.

“Old habits die hard,” he said, referring to his 30 years as a game warden, many as the state’s chief game warden. “I’m not doing any other job. I will be doing this job full time.” 

He was already scheduled to meet with Burnet County leaders the day after his DailyTrib.com interview and will look to those officials to keep him informed about the county’s needs. 

“I am there to get things done for the people I represent,” Flores said. “You vote the district first, then what’s good for Texas. Usually, what’s good for the district is what’s good for Texas. Burnet County needs to know that they are represented, that they have a voice.”

One major goal is to have people from his district appointed to state boards, committees, and commissions.

“I want people from our district sitting at the table of decision making whenever possible,” he said. 

He suggested interested residents visit the governor’s official website to find out how to apply. The governor makes about 1,500 appointments during a four-year term. 

Flores is already settling into his new digs at the Capitol in advance of Tuesday’s opening gavel to the 88th legislative session. He and returning Chief of Staff Harold Stone, who worked for him in the 86th session, will be in Office E1.808 in the Capitol extension. To reach either Stone or Flores by phone, call 512-463-0124. 

“Its about service. It’s about all of us stepping up and doing our share in our own way but not sitting back and doing nothing,” Flores said. “That’s just not acceptable. It’s better to make dust than eat dust.” 

suzanne@thepicayune.com