(CNN)Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores on Friday accused former Vice President Joe Biden of making her feel “uneasy, gross, and confused” when he came up behind her at a campaign event in 2014 and kissed the back of her head.
The account immediately thrust a once rising star of the Democratic Party into the national spotlight. Biden said in a statement Sunday he does not believe he has ever acted inappropriately but will listen to any suggestion otherwise.
Before coming forward with her allegations, Flores was better known as one of Nevada’s first Latina state lawmakers. She served two terms in the assembly and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014. She also ran in the party primary for the 4th District congressional seat in 2016. Flores lost both races.
The House contest was won by now former Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who did not seek re-election in 2018 after becoming the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into allegations he sexually harassed two women. (Kihuen denied any wrongdoing.)
Flores entered the political arena at a young age. She was first elected to the Nevada state assembly in 2010, launching her campaign during her final year of law school. That historic win (and re-election in 2012) put her on the radar of some of the state’s most powerful Democrats. But Flores’ path to office was more remarkable.
“After my mother left my family when I was 9 years old, and without a support structure at home or in school, I got involved in the only thing I had left: gangs and negative influences,” Flores writes on her website, in a story she has told throughout her time in public life. “Law enforcement and inadequate school policies pushed me to the school-to-prison pipeline — a pipeline that is all too present for so many young people in our country still today. By 15, I was on juvenile parole, and by 17, I had dropped out of high school.”
Flores eventually earned her GED, entered community college in Nevada and then transferred to the University of Southern California. She went on to get her law degree at the UNLV Boyd School of Law, before beginning her political career.
During her 2016 congressional campaign, Flores endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential primary campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Later that year, after the primary, Flores became a board member with the Sanders-inspired group “Our Revolution” — a position she has since left. Flores has also spent time as a senior political strategist with the Latino media brand mitú and, more recently, co-founded the Luz Collective, a digital media advocacy group. Flores has yet to endorse a candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary, but she has not fully left the electoral fray. Flores attended a Beto O’Rourke rally over the weekend and praised the Kamala Harris campaign’s efforts to create a better working environment for its staffers.
“A group of us met with Kamala Harris’ campaign manager and one of the first questions that was asked was, ‘What kind of structures are you putting in place in your campaign to ensure that there is a reporting process and that there’s accountability measures in place for any type of reporting that needs to be done?’ And they addressed it,” Flores told CNN. “They were already working on it. I think that’s exactly what campaigns should do.”
Flores has, in recent years, shown a willingness to be critical of her former political allies and frequently challenged a male-dominated political power structure.
In an interview with KNPR’s State of Nevada in 2017, after the accusations against Kihuen became public, Flores recalled attending high school with him and said she had “personally witnessed” Kihuen becoming “inappropriately too close — in particular — to young women.” Flores said his behavior was well-known in local political circles but dismissed as “Ruben being Ruben.” “Part of this,” she added,” is women actually stepping up and saying, ‘No, that’s actually inappropriate behavior.'”
Flores revisited those concerns in an interview with CNN on Friday night as she discussed both Kihuen and the response to her allegations against Biden.
“It’s not (a system) designed for victims. I wonder why? It’s a system that was built by men and for many years behavior like this was entirely tolerated,” Flores said. “You know, five years ago, I don’t think I could have spoken out about (Biden). I think I would have been summarily dismissed.”
When Arturo Carmona, a deputy political director on Sanders’ 2016 campaign, was accused of sexual misconduct by another former staffer during his own 2017 congressional special election campaign in California, Flores was among the first of their former colleagues to speak out in more detail about Carmona’s alleged behavior. Carmona denied the allegations.
Along with other former Sanders 2016 staffers and surrogates, she also signed a letter addressed to progressive leaders, asking them to “immediately withdraw your endorsement of Carmona for California’s 34th Congressional district.” Rep. Jimmy Gomez eventually won the seat, which he was re-elected to last fall.
Flores decided to come forward with her own allegations against Biden in an essay on Friday because the former vice president is considering entering the 2020 presidential race, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union that political considerations were the “impetus” for her decision and that the conduct she accused Biden of was “something that we should consider when we are talking about the background of a person who is considering running for president.”
Flores also said that while she did not claim that the behavior she described rose “to the level of a sexual assault or anything of that nature,” it was “inappropriate.”
“What I am saying is that it’s completely inappropriate, that it does not belong in any kind of a professional setting, much less in politics,” Flores said. “The reason why we’re having these conversations about Vice President Joe Biden is because he’s considering running for president.”
Biden released a statement on Sunday — the first directly from him since news of the allegations broke — saying he never intended to act inappropriately.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort,” Biden said in the statement. “And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
He added, “I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
Flores, in response to the new statement from Biden himself, said that she was “glad that he’s willing to listen” and “glad that he is clarifying his intentions.”
But, she added, “Frankly, my point was never about his intentions, and they shouldn’t be about his intentions. It should be about the women on the receiving end of that behavior.”