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US Representative Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, said on Saturday she fired a former staffer after he was accused of sexual harassment, although her campaign later said the congresswoman had poorly expressed.
Aron Peña, who served as district manager for Texas’ newest Republican in Congress, left the campaign after the far-right website Current Revolt and Texas Public Radio reported sexual harassment allegations against him during decades. The Texas Tribune also reported earlier this month that the Republican Party of Texas investigated Peña on allegations of sexual harassment and that he was accused of touching and kissing an intern without her consent.
Peña dismissed the allegations as politically motivated, but Flores’ campaign called the accusations “serious and not reflective of our values” in response to Tribune reporting.
In response to a question Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival about workplace sexual harassment in politics, Flores said Peña was fired.
“The first thing we were informed he was gone,” Flores said. “We will not tolerate any of this behavior.”
Flores spokesman Daniel Bucheli told the Tribune after the event: “The deputy misspoke this morning,” adding that Peña had “resigned from our office.”
Bucheli’s comment was consistent with a statement about Peña he previously gave to the Tribune. “We responded to the allegations as soon as we were made aware of them and Mr. Peña resigned,” he said.
Peña did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Flores’ remarks on Saturday.
Speaking of sexual harassers, Flores said, “We fire them. My opponent is hiring them” — an apparent dig at U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, Flores’ opponent in his competitive run for the 34th congressional district. Gonzalez came under fire after his campaign paid for advertising on a Texas political blog that used racist and sexist language to describe Flores.
Gonzalez denied knowledge of the blog’s content at the time and vowed not to give him any more campaign money. Flores has since insisted that Gonzalez hired the blogger to sexually harass her with racist tropes.
Flores was speaking at a panel with U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio and Texas Monthly editor Jack Herrera about Republican gains in the traditionally Democratic stronghold of South Texas. National Republicans are focusing on the region as rich fodder for new GOP seats, exploiting the region’s economic concerns, conservative social values and proximity to the border.
Disclosure: Texas Monthly has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
The Texas Tribune Festival is here! From September 22-24 in downtown Austin, this year’s TribFest features more than 25 virtual conversations with guests like Eric Adams, Pete Souza, Jason Kander and many more. After they air for ticket holders, anyone can watch these events at Tribune’s Festival news page. Keep up to date with the latest news and free sessions from TribFest.
Clarification, September 24, 2022: This story has been updated to include comments from Flores campaign spokesperson Daniel Bucheli, who said Flores misspoke when she said she fired her former district manager, Aron Peña, after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him.