LAS VEGAS — Lucy Flores, the former Nevada politician who accused Joe Biden of inappropriately kissing her on the back of the head in 2014, rose from a tough childhood through top Democratic political circles before becoming an outspoken critic of sexism and harassing behavior in politics.
Flores was a high school dropout and former gang member who obtained a law degree and served two terms in the state assembly before making unsuccessful runs for Nevada's lieutenant governor's office and a Las Vegas-area congressional seat.
She's now in the national spotlight after saying that the former vice president touched her inappropriately. Her assertion has brought new attention to Biden's well-publicized affectionate mannerisms, raising questions about whether he's out of step with today's politics.
Flores now runs a Latina-focused media company in Los Angeles. In an interview with The Associated Press, she said she wanted to bring attention to behavior by Biden that has often been brushed aside as a joke.
Noting that videos and photos have captured Biden's affectionate behavior toward women over the years, Flores said, "Whether people want to believe me or not, frankly, I think at this point is kind of irrelevant."
In a statement on Sunday, Biden said he has never intentionally behaved inappropriately during his many years in public life.
"If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully," he said. "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.
The incident with Biden isn't Flores' first time speaking out about male behavior in politics.
In 2017, after several women accused former Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen of sexual harassment, Flores gave several interviews in which she recounted witnessing flirtatious, inappropriately close behavior by Kihuen toward other women.
Flores, who was Kihuen's high school classmate and a rival in a Democratic primary race for congress in 2016, served with him in the state legislature. He denied any wrongdoing.
She also backed allegations of sexism that a former female strategist for Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign leveled against a former male staffer for the Vermont senator. Flores said she only interacted briefly with the man while she was a Sanders surrogate in 2016. But she later worked with the man at another company and said she experienced his "demeaning and sexist ways."
Reuben D'Silva, a former Democratic congressional candidate who lived in the same neighborhood as Flores and campaigned for Sanders with her, said he's known Flores as an outspoken advocate for women.
D'Silva said he believes Flores and is proud of her speaking out.
"It doesn't surprise me that she's willing to even take on Joe Biden directly in the most high-profile of ways. It's who she is," D'Silva said.
Flores, a native of Glendale, California, has described overcoming a hardscrabble upbringing in Las Vegas as one of 13 children in a family with an often absent mother.
While serving in public office and campaigning in Nevada, she described joining a gang as a teenager, having an abortion at 16, dropping out of high school at 17 and serving nine months in juvenile detention for leading police on a chase in a stolen car.
"I was always the smart-assed kid who was telling cops I knew my rights," she told a group of students in 2014. "I really enjoyed the law and thought maybe one day I could be a lawyer."
She said a second chance from a parole officer set her on a new course, leading her to eventually attend community college, earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California and a law degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2010.
That fall, she was elected to the state assembly as part of a group of the first Latinas voted into the chamber. She served two terms, including a stint in leadership, before leaving to mount an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
Two years later, she lost to Kihuen in a three-way Democratic primary for a Las Vegas-area congressional seat.
Flores endorsed Sanders early in 2016 and the Vermont senator responded by urging supporters to contribute jointly to both campaigns. Sanders' backing bolstered Flores' campaign cache, providing as much as $600,000 of the $1 million she raised, according to Nevada political observers.3 comments on this story
After losing in the primary, Flores was brought into Sanders' political orbit. She was selected as a board director of Our Revolution, a nonprofit political action group created during the 2016 campaign to help fund progressive candidates aligned with Sanders. Flores served on the group's board for more than a year, but grew disenchanted and left, she told the AP, because of the Sanders political organization's failure to bring qualified minority political leaders into his inner circle.
In her unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor, Flores tried to improve ties with the state's business community. But her campaign organization showed signs of instability, said several Nevada political observers. Two campaign managers departed early in that campaign before Flores settled on a third, Kristina Hagen, who remained for the duration of her Nevada race.
Associated Press writers Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.