Hector Mendoza, played by Benito Martinez, was one of the few characters in the first season of House of Cards who seemed able to hold a candle to Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) political scheming. Democrats on the show viewed him as a strong contender for the Republican presidential nominee in the upcoming presidential election. Then, suddenly, Mendoza was written out of the show. What led to the change? (Heads up, this article doesn’t shy away from spoilers.
Hector Mendoza as the Underwoods’ Foil
Hector Mendoza was the senior senator from Arizona, and for the majority of the show served as the Republican Leader of the US Senate. Some small amount of backstory is given to Mendoza’s character, that he worked as a staffer during Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential campaign.
In the second season of House of Cards, Frank Underwood, then the Vice President under President Walker, tried to work with Mendoza to push a spending bill through the Republican-controlled Senate. However, pressure from within the Republican Party by Tea Party-aligned senators forced Mendoza to back out of the agreement. Mendoza ordered the Republican senators to leave the Senate chamber during the middle of a vote, so that Frank Underwood was unable to take a vote on his American Works spending bill, which was Underwood’s attempt to find a bipartisan approach to stabilizing America’s economy..
Underwood responded by getting the Senate Minority Leader to compel the attendance of absent senators, a motion which was passed nearly unanimously due to the absence of Republican senators which precipitated the motion. This led to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest any absent senators and escort them back to the chamber. Hector Mendoza and the rest of the Republicans were therefore put in handcuffs and led back into the chamber by Capitol Police. The action meant Underwood was able to pass his bill, but drew the ire of both the Republican Party and many moderates within the Democrats.
Hector Mendoza later antagonizes Frank Underwood’s partner and wife Claire Underwood during her bid for appointment to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. After saying he would not actively oppose her, he aggressively questions her, goading her into calling the U.S. military irrelevant. IN private, after her appointment fails, he clarifies that the questions were meant to test her ability to withstand pressure, so he was not opposing her, simply testing whether or not she was truly qualified for the role.
As the Underwoods prepared for the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign, Bob Birch, Minority Leader of the Democrats in the Senate, cautions Underwood that Mendoza was likely to be the Republican nominee. This was a strong motivation for Birch, and his fellow Democrats Terry Womack and Jackie Sharp, to try to push Frank Underwood from being the Democratic nominee in that same race.
Then, rather abruptly, it is revealed later into the third season that Mendoza has resigned. Hounded by scandal of accepting undeclared payments for speeches, he was replaced as Senate Majority Leader by Henry Mitchell. Mitchell works with Birch and the other Democrats to protect against some of the damages caused by Underwood’s aggressive politics, most notably restoring funding to FEMA that was drained by the America Works program.
Mendoza’s departure from the show was unexpected, considering the repeated allusions to the greater role he would play in the presidential election. This left audiences with two questions: who would replace Mendoza as the presumptive nominee, and why did he leave?
After Mendoza’s resignation, the mantle of representing the Republicans in the presidential election fell to William Conway, who is serving as Governor of New York. A traditional liberal, which in today’s political climate means a conservative, Conway is charismatic and represented as an All-American. After 9/11, Conway immediately joined the United States Air Force, and from there launched a political career. In many ways, Conway is a much larger threat to Frank Underwood than Mendoza ever could have been. Young and married with two young children, Conway represents much of what the middle-aged Underwood, without kids and with an unstable marriage, isn’t.
Why Did Mendoza Resign?
His sudden disappearance from the series left many viewers puzzled. Mendoza was last seen in season three of the series. He was a crucial player in the political game, often clashing with Underwood on various political issues. However, his exit from the show was rather abrupt and unceremonious.
The reason behind Mendoza’s abrupt exit was revealed in a dialogue exchange between two other characters in the series. It was mentioned that Hector Mendoza had stepped down from his position as Senate Majority Leader due to an alleged scandal involving unreported payment for speeches. This scandalous revelation was significant enough to end Mendoza’s political career and thus his character’s role in House of Cards.
The departure of Hector Mendoza was not marked by a grand exit or dramatic finale — it simply came to light through a casual conversation, leaving fans puzzled and wanting more. Viewers were left wondering about the motives behind his actions and whether he would ever return.
The absence of Hector Mendoza from subsequent episodes led to a lot of speculations and theories among fans and critics alike. Some believed it was a deliberate move by the show makers to create suspense, while others felt it was due to external factors like scheduling conflicts or other off-screen issues with the actor. The exact reasons still remain unknown.