Former Rep. Mayra Flores says she was ‘attacked by a pervert’ in fundraising appeals

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By CAROLINE PETROW-COHEN | Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON — Mayra Flores, a South Texas Republican who served in Congress for just over six months after a special election last year, has an unusual fundraising message as she tries to regain a House seat.

“I was attacked by a pervert,” say emails she’s been blasting nearly every day this summer to would-be supporters. “My opponent hired a twisted left-wing pervert to attack me and sexually degrade me.”

She’s referring to Jerry McHale, a longtime liberal blogger in Brownsville whose attacks gained national attention after Flores cried foul in July 2022. That was during a hotly contested fight with Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a McAllen Democrat who’d paid McHale for what his campaign described as advertising.

No ads ever appeared on the blog, but McHale did unleash a series of posts that questioned how a conservative could be a genuine Latina, calling Flores “Miss Frijoles” and “Miss Enchiladas” and using sexually crude language.

Texas Congresswoman Mayra Flores prays with her supporters on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during her watch party at Nana’s Taqueria in Weslaco, Texas. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

Gonzalez, who defeated her in November, condemned McHale’s “offensive” descriptions at the time and insisted he had nothing to do with them.

Flores first called McHale a pervert in July 2022, telling Fox News Digital: “Vicente Gonzalez is an example of everything that’s wrong with Washington. He doesn’t have a record to stand on, so he hires a pervert to attack me.”

McHale’s attacks have continued as Flores seeks a 2024 rematch, which she announced two months ago.

She pointed to “discriminatory” and “racist” content McHale has posted on his Facebook page.

“Don’t confuse Mayra ‘Menudo’ Flores with Pozole!!!” McHale wrote last week, comparing Flores to different Mexican dishes.

“It’s something that I have to continue to endure,” Flores told The Dallas Morning News by phone. “It’s a very hard time for conservative Latina women. We’re attacked not just because of our faith but also our gender.”

The Gonzalez campaign declined to comment.

McHale, who retired a few years ago as a teacher with the Brownsville school district, did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via email and direct messages on social media.

Jared Hockema, Democratic Party chair in Cameron County, which includes Brownsville, said McHale is known in South Texas as relentless and abrasive. His posts about local political figures often include crude and vulgar references.

“He writes horrible things about anybody,” said Hockema.

Flores began sending the emails shortly after she announced her comeback bid July 11 on Fox New. Recipients have received a version of it dozens of times.

The emails don’t identify her attacker, or elaborate on or link to any of the comments. Both Flores and an aide said it refers to McHale.

“Pervert” — someone whose sexual behavior is regarded as abnormal and abhorrent — isn’t a term frequently seen in political ads.

But while it’s an especially inflammatory term, said James Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political scientist, “The acceptable range of rhetoric that we use and the way we characterize our political opponents has become much more rancid.”

“It grabs people’s attention… If you don’t use flagrant language, you can’t get attention anymore,” said Kendall Scudder, a consultant with Armadilla Strategies, which works with Dallas County Democrats.

Christopher Nicholas, a Republican consultant in Pennsylvania, surmised the word has been effective since Flores keeps using it.

“The reason you want to use incendiary language is to cut through the clutter in someone’s email box,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you move on to something else… But if what you’re doing works, you expand it because it’s making money.”

A sign for the re-election cmapaign for U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores for District 34 is posted at the entry to a polling location Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during election day for the state midterm elections at the polling location at the Primera Community Center in Primera.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

‘Hateful and racist’

Flores, a respiratory therapist, became the first Latina Republican sent to Congress by Texas when she won a special election to replace Democrat Filemon Vela, who’d resigned soon after winning a fifth term.

Flipping that district was a major victory for Republicans, who’d been gaining ground in South Texas but had never before held a congressional seat along the border.

Five months later, Gonzalez defeated her by 9 percentage points.

He’d given up a neighboring seat the Legislature had turned into a Republican bastion when it redrew maps after the 2020 Census. That district snakes from McAllen, at the border, to the east side of San Antonio. Freshman Rep. Monica De La Cruz won that seat, becoming Texas’ second Latina Republican in Congress and the first to win a full term.

Hispanics made up about 85% of his current district, which takes in Harlingen and Brownsville and runs north along the Gulf Coast almost to Corpus Christi.

The Gonzalez campaign paid McHale $1,000 in October 2021 and $1,200 in June 2022 for “advertising services,” according to Federal Election Commission reports.

The first mentions of Flores on McHale’s blog surfaced three days after the June payment, NBC News reported the next month.

U.S. Rep Vicente Gonzalez speaks with Boys & Girls Club CEO Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar after he donates $2 million dollars to the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

NBC found no sign of Gonzalez ads on McHale’s blog. Flores tweeted the same month that the blog has no designated space for ads.

The blog is no longer online.

To back up its contention that McHale is a “pervert,” the Flores campaign pointed to lewd comments referring to spending a night with Flores and comparing female genitalia to rotten oyster bar food.

Her emails to donors omit such details.

“We highlight this in some of Mayra’s fundraising materials not only because it’s true, but because donors are motivated to help when they see what Mayra is up against as a conservative Hispanic woman who is willing to stand up for her beliefs,” said a Flores adviser, Paul Smith.

After McHale referred to her as “Miss Frijoles 2022,” her initial tack was to both denounce the taunt and play along.

She called the label “hateful and racist” in a tweet that included a screenshot of his blog entry, adding that “I love frijoles and I grew up eating frijoles. I am not embarrassed of my upbringings and frijoles with tortillas de harina is simply the best. Here’s to Miss Frijoles 2022.”

Frijoles — beans — are a staple in Latino cuisine.

There were other taunts.

McHale referred to her as a “cotton pickin’ liar” – questioning that she worked in cotton fields as a child with her immigrant parents.

He refused to apologize, telling NBC News, “I’m a liberal Democrat and it’s war against the Republican… I’m going to be merciless with her.”

Gonzalez distanced himself when the comments surfaced.

“We advertise on many platforms and have no control over their editorial content,” he tweeted in July 2022. “We do not pay for political attacks and we will not be advertising on this platform again.”

In a comment on that tweet, a GOP media strategist pointed out holes in the defense: How could Gonzalez “advertise” on a blog that includes no ads? And why would he buy ads directly with a blogger rather than through the campaign’s ad agency?

Gonzalez’s statement continued: “We condemn the offensive remarks… just as we have condemned Donald Trump’s racist rants calling Mexicans rapists and murderers. If only Rep. Flores had the courage to do the same.”

Flores contends McHale is not the lone wolf the congressman has made him out to be.

“Local Democrats have empowered him and continue to hire him,” she said.

Hockema, the Cameron County party chair, denies that.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with him,” he said.