The reelection of U.S. Rep. Bill Flores seemed inevitable last year when the regular filing period for the 2012 elections passed without a challenger emerging.
But confusion over redistricting produced a second filing period in March. And on March 9, the last day possible, George Hindman threw his name in the hat.
"I was surprised to see someone jump in -- especially how it came in the last minute," Flores said. "But it is a free country. It is going to cause us to have our 'A game' in the primary."
It will be an uphill climb for Hindman to unseat Flores, the incumbent from Bryan with ample campaign funds and strong support in his conservative district. Hindman said he believes that Flores is a "conservative Republican," but has a few key disagreements with the congressman and wants to give voters another option.
They will get that choice on May 29 in the Republican primary. Early voting begins May 14.
The two candidates are vying to represent a district that includes east central Texas counties, including Brazos County and McLennan County. It also has a small arm that extends west into north Travis County. The winner will almost certainly win the seat -- no Democrat has filed in the race.
Three key complaints
Hindman does not actually live in District 17. He recently married and moved into his wife's house, which is "just outside the district," he said.
But he said he lived in the current boundaries for years and hopes to return. And, he noted, the U.S. Constitution only requires congressmen to live in the state that they represent.
Flores said he finds its "fascinating" that Hindman won't be able to vote in the primary he is running in, but declined to say whether that should be a factor in the race.
"I will leave that up to the voters," Flores said.
Hindman first became involved in politics when he lived in Houston in 1992 and volunteered at the Republican National Convention at the Astrodome.
At the time, he worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center as a senior instructor at the Mission Operations Directorate. Soon after, he moved to Austin, where he continued to volunteer for local Republican campaigns. He has now lived there for 17 years and currently operates a small engineering research and development business.
Hindman became interested in the race after the District 17 boundaries were redrawn to include a small part of north Austin. The district included the home in which Hindman lived for years, so he began to research Flores' voting record and found he disagreed on some key issues.
The main issue, Hindman said, was Flores' vote in favor of the America Invents Act. That law, passed in September, updated the U.S. patent system in a way that harms small businesses, Hindman said.
In particular, Hindman said he disagreed with the move from a "first to invent" system to a "first to file" rule. That means that the inventor who files first gets a patent, instead of the inventor who can prove he invented it first.
That can be difficult for small businesses that can't afford to rush to file a patent, he said.
Flores said the law protects companies from frivolous lawsuits pursued by so-called "patent trolls," who will file for patents held by large companies and then sue for damages. Hindman, Flores noted, filed an intellectual property lawsuit against XM Radio in 2007 and lost.
"He has got a personal interest in this," Flores said.
Hindman said the America Invents Act was reason enough to run against Flores, but also cited two other votes by the lawmaker that inspired him to run. Flores voted in the summer of 2011 to raise the federal debt ceiling and voted this spring in favor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.
The cyber security act could violate some American's civil liberties and the debt ceiling bill was fiscally irresponsible, Hindman said.
"I just don't think it was a good deal to vote for," he said.
Flores proud of his first term
Flores, meanwhile, said he has no regrets about the two votes. The cyber security bill was necessary to protect American businesses from foreign attacks, he said. And Republicans wrestled key concessions from Democrats and avoided a government shutdown by voting to raise the debt limit, he said. The debt deal wasn't perfect, he said, but it was the best option possible.
"I am not a member of leadership, so I did not control what comes to the floor," he said.
As a freshman legislator in a party that doesn't control the presidency or the Senate, Flores said he and his party have been unable to pass major legislation. But he said he and fellow Republicans have worked to reduce the damage that President Barack Obama and fellow Republicans were causing.
"We have stopped the damaging events that have occurred in the prior Congress," he said. "No more attempts to pass cap and trade, no more Obamacare, no more Dodd-Frank. In terms of fixing the damage that was done by the prior two Congresses, that has been a harder objective to fulfill."
But Flores said he expects Republicans to retake the Senate and the presidency. Then, progress will come.
"We have got the blueprints, we have laid them out, we just need to build it," he said. "We can if we have a different Senate and different leadership in the White House, we can build that new economy -- that shining city on the hill."
Meet the candidates
Occupation: Retired oil and gas executive
Education: Bachelors degree from Texas A&M University; MBA from Houston Baptist University
Family: Married with grown children
Occupation: Owner of a small engineering firm
Education: Bachelors degree from University of Virginia; masters from University of Texas at Austin