Why you should care
Because the former state assemblywoman has overcome much worse than an overly affectionate VP.
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“I was one of the lucky ones,” Lucy Flores tells the camera. It’s 2009, and Flores, a third-year law student, is running to represent Nevada’s Assembly District 28. In a video produced by the National Women’s Law Center, Flores recounts growing up amid gang violence as a first-generation Mexican-American in Las Vegas. She spent time behind bars but was able to turn her life around, she says. Flores went on to win that election, becoming one of the first Latinas elected to the Nevada state legislature.
Less than seven years later, her political career would come to a grinding halt. But Flores, 39, is back in the spotlight for bringing accusations of inappropriate behavior against former Vice President Joe Biden. In an essay for New York magazine, Flores alleges that during a 2014 campaign event, Biden came up behind her, placed his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head. “I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused,” Flores writes. Biden, who’s now weighing a run for the White House, has neither confirmed nor denied the accusations, issuing a statement saying he does not believe he’s ever acted inappropriately on the campaign trail but, “if it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully.”
A second woman came forward Monday to accuse Biden of inappropriately touching her. Amy Lappos, a former congressional aide for Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, says Biden “put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me” at a 2009 fundraiser.
Flores, the youngest girl of 13 siblings, was raised by her father after her mother left home when she was 9. All six of her sisters got pregnant as teenagers, two of her brothers have done prison time and two of her brothers were killed in drug- and gang-related violence. Flores herself was involved in a gang and spent nine months in juvenile detention for stealing a car at age 14. When she got out, her parole officer, Leslie Camp, pushed her to focus on school.
Nobody has been as initially impressive and nobody has fallen faster in Nevada politics than Lucy Flores.
Jon Ralston, political commentator
While Flores didn’t graduate from high school, she did get her GED. After community college and a number of jobs (a doctor’s office, an engineering firm and a women’s prison), she enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, transferred to the University of Southern California and eventually graduated from law school at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where she also founded an innocence clinic to assist in wrongful convictions. After becoming a state assemblywoman in 2010, she passed the bar exam and began tackling issues that hit close to home. She assisted with a judicial order prohibiting the shackling of juveniles and sponsored legislation to allow victims of domestic violence to terminate rental agreements early. Flores was a rising star in the Democratic Party — a media darling with an inspirational backstory to boot.
Then in 2014, Flores ran for lieutenant governor and lost in a rout to Republican Mark Hutchison, 60 percent to 34 percent. She ran for the U.S. House of Representatives for a seat covering central Nevada and North Las Vegas but lost the Democratic primary to Ruben Kihuen (who was later forced out of Congress amid his own sexual misconduct allegations).
“Nobody has been as initially impressive, and nobody has fallen faster in Nevada politics than Lucy Flores,” says Jon Ralston, political commentator and editor of the Nevada Independent. Ralston says Flores got a bad rap in the state’s political sphere for being an “attention seeker,” continually putting herself at the center of whatever policy she was fighting for. Like the time she gave testimony about getting an abortion at age 16 during a 2013 committee meeting on sex education. While Ralson doesn’t know what to make of her claims, he says many people he’s spoken to wonder if she was pushed to come forward by someone who’s running in 2020.
Shortly after her essay was published, multiple Democratic presidential candidates said they believe Flores and urged Biden to address the claims. Others have come to Biden’s defense. A photo of Biden touching the shoulders of and whispering in the ear of Stephanie Carter, the wife of former secretary of defense Ashton Carter, went viral, but Stephanie Carter defended Biden in a Medium essay saying the photo was “misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends.”
Flores, on the other hand, had never met Biden prior to that campaign event. And she did have a problem with his affection. “You don’t expect that kind of intimacy from someone you have no relationship to whatsoever,” Flores told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “[Biden’s behavior] is something we should consider when we’re talking about the background of someone who’s preparing to run for president.”
Biden, 76, seemed on the verge of a formal announcement that he was joining the 2020 race, just as this reassessment arrives of his hands-on past, only one piece of the baggage that could weigh down the widely admired party stalwart who now leads in the polls for the Democratic nomination.
Flores, who endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 but says she hasn’t been in touch with his campaign and isn’t backing him this time, has left electoral politics behind for the time being. She moved to Los Angeles and helped found a media company, Luz Collective, that aims to empower Latinas to tell their stories — the unvarnished version, come what may.