Hector Maldonado took one oath to support the U.S. Constitution when he became a citizen, a second when he enlisted in the U.S. Army and another earlier this year when he became an elector and promised to support whichever Republican presidential candidate won Missouri.
The Mexican immigrant and former Ted Cruz supporter said he will make good on his most recent promise and pick President-elect Donald Trump in what’s shaping up to be an unusually controversial Electoral College vote on Monday.
“Even though he wasn’t my first choice, the oath that I took said that I would support that if that’s what my state picked,” said Maldonado, 44. “And that’s what I will do.”
Maldonado was born in Mexico to a migrant field worker who started picking fruits and vegetables as a teenager. When Maldonado was about five, his father received a sponsorship as a hog farmer and relocated his family to the United States.
Maldonado served in the ROTC while studying at California State University and became a citizen in 1995, a year before he graduated. He later served as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. He moved to Missouri in 2005 and made unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012.
Now he sells medical equipment and lives in Sullivan, a town of about 6,400 people roughly 70 miles southwest of St. Louis. The town is about 95 percent white, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
In November, Trump won Missouri with close to 57 percent of the vote. Since then, tens of thousands of people have written letters and emails to Maldonado and other electors asking them to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who got more votes nationwide.
Missouri’s Republican electors are not bound by law to vote for the state’s winning candidate, but Maldonado and other electors were asked to pledge to vote for whoever won. Critics asking him to break his oath and vote for Clinton want him to “defraud Missourians of their representation,” he said.
Maldonado supported Cruz in the Republican presidential primary, but said he was comfortable with Trump now.
“Not everyone’s always going to have their candidate win. My candidate didn’t win,” Maldonado said. “You have to live with what the process turns up, and it’s Donald Trump for the next four years.”
Most people who appealed to him to change his vote decried the president-elect as a bigot and racist. But Maldonado doesn’t believe he is.
“Just because you stand up for America or you say you’re going to put up a wall between America and Mexico, it doesn’t make you a racist,” Maldonado said. He said he believes Trump’s promised wall on the southern border is about national security.
Maldonado also said he found comfort in Trump’s first speech after the election, when the president-elect pledged to serve all Americans. Maldonado said in the end, “we’re all true Americans” and will move forward.
Of all the letters he’s received, Maldonado so far has responded to only one: a letter from a single mother and Air Force veteran.
Maldonado said he told her “everything’s going to be OK. I know you’re scared, but don’t worry. Everything’s going to be OK.”
“And I know that it will be,” he said.