The Kino Flores verdict
Thu October 28, 2010 10:26 am

He deserved what he got, but I'm not going to celebrate it. Political corruption and scandal rub off on everybody in politics and diminish what little respect the public has. It is particularly cruel when it happens in South Texas, because ordinary people need help from government, but they have no faith in it, and so they don't vote. One of the saddest stories to run in Texas Monthly was Cecilia Balli's piece, several years ago, about Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu, a popular constable who became, in his self-description, "the People's Sheriff," only to be convicted of corruption, including involvement with drug smugglers.

Here is Balli's description of South Texas politics, from her story, "The Bad Guy with a Badge":

In Cameron County (population: 378,000), only between 20,000 and 30,000 people vote in the Democratic primary; the number climbs in general elections when the presidential race is on the ballot. Because family is paramount here, one way to begin getting the 12,000 to 15,000 votes needed to win office is to make friends with large extended families, which are not hard to find. The smaller towns in the Valley are also notoriously loyal to their crests, so if a prominent family in a town supports a certain candidate, chances are good that other voters there will do the same. Candidates also boost their support by teaming up with popular candidates in other places, even if the relationships are temporary or contrived. And if more votes are needed, there's always the option of hiring politiqueras, fierce women political workers who will journey door-to-door to help the eldest of the electorate fill out their early-voting ballots and drive vans crammed with people to the polls on Election Day.

Kino excelled at this game. I went to McAllen in 2008 to write about what turned out to be his last race. His opponent was Sandra Rodriguez, whose husband, a retired judge, had been very popular when he was on the bench. He arrived at my hotel in his pickup. The bed was stacked high with campaign signs. We went to a local restaurant that was a popular hangout for politicos. Kino knew everybody, of course. He went from one table to the next, gladhanding and backslapping. Afterward, back in his truck, Kino said to me, "There is no politician like me." It's true. He was old-style to the core. He feuded with his own father, who was the mayor of a town in the district. He drove around his district putting up his own signs. He was a big believer in billboards too. Kino and his allies controlled a local school board, and Rodriguez told me that she got calls from teachers who supported her. "He knows where they live," she told me. "If they don't let him put up his signs in their yards, they will get fired." Kino would defeat Rodriguez, but he seemed to sense that time was running out for his kind of politics. The best that I can say about him is that he was a rogue, but he never pretended to be anything else.

The surprising thing about Flores's fall is that he could have easily avoided prosecution. His crime was felony tampering with government records. He failed to disclose his sources of income on his financial disclosure form. It would have been easy enough to do that -- unless he was covering something up, and took the fall for it.

His last session was a disaster. He feuded with Calendars chairman Brian McCall over veteran's bill that, in Kino's opinion, had remained hung up in committee too long. He went to the microphone to complain about bills that were brought to the floor before his, and once got in a shoving match with McCall. He was an embarrassment, a carricature of the worst kind of political hack. Few will feel sorry for him. But, make no mistake, every incident of corruption rubs off on the body as a whole. His real crime is that he diminished public faith in politics.

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