Lucy Flores has seldom been shy about saying what she felt needed to be said.
When running for the Nevada Legislature as a 30-year-old political neophyte, she was open with voters about her parents’ broken marriage, about her teenage life in a Las Vegas gang, about how she had stolen cars. Once elected, she told a legislative committee she had received an abortion when she was a teen.
Then on March 29 she published an essay — a personal account of how then-Vice President Joe Biden stood behind her, put his hands on her shoulders and smelled her hair before planting a “big slow kiss” on the back of her head while at a campaign event in 2014, when she was running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor of Nevada.
But before telling the world about Biden, she had neglected to tell the one person in the world she was closest to: her father.
“I was afraid to tell him,” said Flores, 39. “Of course I knew he would support me, but it’s the person who matters most to me, and I was afraid he’d be mad that I never told him before or that I didn’t talk to him when I decided to write the article or any other number of reasons.”
Flores wrote the essay, she said, because she had seen one too many accounts of Biden touching people in “creepy” ways.
She thought she needed to point out what had been the unspoken acceptance of “Joe being Joe.”
So on Tuesday, she called her dad. Before she spoke a word, he lifted the burden. He told her: “I know you’re doing this for the right reasons.”
He gently joked that she underestimated how much Spanish-language news he watched.
Her revelation once again renewed the nation’s tempestuous #MeToo debate over the personal conduct of men in power and threatened to jeopardize Biden’s anticipated presidential campaign even before he made his candidacy official.
But not everyone agreed with her father’s assessment.
She’s been castigated as a Bernie Sanders supporter seeking to subvert Biden’s 2020 presidential aspirations. She’s been called an opportunist seeking publicity. On social media and online comments, the vitriol and personal attacks have been vicious, demeaning and vile.
But she’s contended with adversity much of her life — starting as a toddler.
Her father, Joe Flores, was a mariachi singer in Los Angeles with a gold record and a following. But then two of his sons were murdered and he decided to take the family — Flores was the youngest girl of 13 children — to Las Vegas to get away from the scene.
By the time she was 9, things were getting rough around the house. She recalled that her mother moved out after her father was sometimes abusive to her. Flores said she understood why she left, but the children felt abandoned. In Vegas, her dad tried to support the family as a landscaper.
“There were times we didn’t have anything to eat and ... because he was raised on a ranch and he was also a landscaper, he would figure out the edible weeds at people’s homes,” she said.
Life at home was chaotic. She started running away regularly when she was 12. Flores said she often sleptin a park by Lincoln Elementary School before spending nights at friends’ houses.
Then gangs found her. They provided her a sense of belonging. They’d cajole her into stealing. Little things at first, like food or alcohol. At 14 she got arrested for stealing a car and served 10 months in a juvenile detention center.
When she got out, she decided to live with her mother, hoping a change of scenery might help her get her life back on track. It didn’t go well, she said; the two of them got into a fight and police were called.
That was a parole violation, and soon she was in front of a judge, expecting the worst.
That’s when Leslie Camp stepped in. Camp, a no-nonsense parole officer who wore a necklace with glittering handcuffs, told the judge to spare her.
“I felt like she was a good kid,” Camp said. “She was more of a victim of circumstances in my opinion. I ... told her, ‘Why are you doing this? You’re a good kid. This doesn’t need to be you.’”
Flores talked to Camp about her home life and education and her future. “She was trying to understand me. Nobody had really listened to me before,” Flores said.
She returned to school, but then got pregnant at 16. Flores saw what her sisters went through when they became pregnant as teenagers; she decided she wasn’t ready to be a parent.
Telling her dad, she said, was the hardest thing she ever had to do.
She was terrified of how he might react to her decision to abort her pregnancy. But he was supportive of her decision.
One of her best friends growing up, Yesenia Paulsen, went with her to the abortion clinic and remembers how they didn’t talk about it afterward.
“It was hard. We both cried,” Paulsen said.
Flores would ultimately attend community college and transfer to USC. She got her law degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and passed the bar in 2011.
She decided to run for state Assembly after doing pro bono work at the state Capitol in 2010 for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and helping lobby to get two pieces of wrongful-conviction legislation passed, Flores said.
Paulsen said she figured Flores’ abortion would remain a quiet part of her past, but then, in 2013, she saw video of Flores testifying about it as a second-term assemblywoman.
Flores said she felt compelled to share her story in support of a sex education bill.
She told the lawmakers that the abortion was “a very difficult thing” for her to do. But she said it was the right decision for her.
“Now in retrospect, if I could go back and be on birth control — or better yet — learn to fill my life with something else, other than having the attention of a man in the non-healthy relationship, I would have preferred to do that, if someone would have talked to me about it,” she said at the hearing.
Felicia Ortiz, who has been friends with Flores since 2009, said that after the testimony the lawmaker discovered someone had fired a shot at her house.
Ortiz had Flores stay with her.
Flores spent just the one night.
“She’s Ms. Independent,” Ortiz said. “She said, ‘It’s all good. I’m fine.’”
During her two terms in the state Assembly, Flores said, she was proud of legislation she was involved with, including a bill to let victims of domestic violence break leases to escape their environment.
Her star was bright in Nevada politics after 2013, as she left the Assembly.
But the next year, she lost her race for lieutenant governor by double digits after being anointed by the state’s Democratic Party establishment.
And worse, she was seen as a sore loser.
Flores took a crack at a congressional seat in 2016, and hitched her political fortunes to Sanders, who was running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Flores lost the primary.
After that defeat, Flores moved back to L.A. She runs a media website focused on Latina issues and hasn’t ruled out a future run for office.
When she spoke with her father last week, she recounted, he ended the call with a joke.
“He said, ‘No metas la pata,’ which is a funny saying in Spanish that basically means, ‘Don’t mess it up,’” Flores said.
Flores laughed. And then she choked up.
“I wouldn’t be me without him,” she said.