(left) John Lujan and opponent Leo Pacheco are vying for Texas House of Representatives District 118.
(from left) Republican John Lujan and Democrat Leo Pacheco are vying to represent Texas House District 118. Credit: Composite / Courtesy Twitter - Facebook

Republican John Lujan, who once served less than a year as representative for Texas House District 118, is leading a grassroots campaign, hoping to win back that seat in the Nov. 6 election.

His opponent, Democrat Leo Pacheco, is leading his first campaign for public office and running as if he were far behind Lujan in the race. “I’m treating it like I was running against an incumbent,” Pacheco said.

The Democratic-leaning district covers much of the far South and Southeast sides, winds northward through Universal City, Schertz, Selma, and Live Oak, and back into far Northeast San Antonio. The race for House District 118 is not a big-money contest, with Lujan reporting $1,329 cash on hand in the most recent campaign finance report filed Oct. 8. Pacheco had slightly more, reporting $5,080 cash on hand.

The District 118 boundary spreads through Southeast Bexar County and into the Northeast.
Texas House District 118’s boundaries spread through South Bexar County and into the Northeast. Credit: Courtesy / Texas House of Representatives

Both candidates are lifelong South Siders who together with their families have invested decades into community service. Pacheco’s father was a deacon at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, and the Democratic candidate has volunteered at St. Leo and coached with the Catholic Youth Organization sports program. Lujan’s mother was a principal at Gallardo Elementary School; his father, a minister, has returned to lead the congregation at Southside Baptist Church.

Pacheco, 60, has spent nine years as a human resource specialist at Palo Alto College, and has been an adjunct professor at San Antonio College and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The first in his family to graduate from college, Pacheco possesses three college degrees after a brief stint driving a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus.

These educational and professional journeys, and volunteering for Frank Tejeda’s legislative campaign, left an impression on Pacheco.

“The bug hit me to get more involved in the community,” he said.

Lujan, 56, spent six years with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office before pursuing a career with the San Antonio Fire Department that lasted 25 years. In 1999, he launched a second career when he joined his brother’s venture, Y&L Consulting, a local company that now has hundreds of consultants providing businesses nationwide with information technology solutions.

“Public service has always meant much to my family,” Lujan said.

Lujan first claimed the District 118 seat in an upset win in a January 2016 special election runoff, replacing Democrat Joe Farias, who resigned midway through his fifth term in office.

Defeating Tomas Uresti, a Democrat and brother of then-State Sen. Carlos Uresti, Lujan became the first Republican to represent a traditionally Democratic district.

While a registered Republican, Lujan said he does not consider himself a hardcore partisan.

“We’ve already had enough bad political races in the South Side from the past,” Lujan said. “I’m not a big partisan guy. I don’t want to sit in Austin knowing I did or said something bad to get elected.”

Before running in the special election to replace Farias, Lujan helped form a grassroots group, Southside on the Rise, which promoted the area as one filled with potential and with proactive residents and business owners.

“We’ve been poised for growth, but some of our neighborhoods and schools are in poor condition,” Lujan said.

Lujan said he’s proud of the work he did in Austin in 2016, including addressing issues related to a large South Side tire dump that had become an eyesore and posed environmental worries for neighbors.

But in the November 2016 general election Lujan failed to win re-election, losing to Tomas Uresti, who drew 55 percent of the vote. But the same name recognition that may have aided Uresti in that election appeared to work against him in 2018, after federal fraud charges against Carlos Uresti and subsequent guilty verdicts made Tomas Uresti vulnerable in the Democratic primary.

Pacheco’s friends and associates convinced him to challenge Uresti. Until then, the only political experience Pacheco had was two terms as Bexar County Democratic chair in the 1990s, and volunteering with other campaigns.

“I thought it was time for a change,” Pacheco said of challenging Uresti.

Pacheco felt his primary upset of Uresti stemmed from connections he built as a county party chair – and because of political complacency on Uresti’s part.

“[Uresti] took me for granted,” Pacheco said. “I don’t think he really knew who I was.”

Lujan was unopposed in the March GOP primary. Now he’s campaigning on issues he feels are vital to District 118.

Lujan’s primary campaign issues are reforming and reducing property taxes, allocating more money for public safety and transportation initiatives, preserving the mission at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, and reforming parts of the state’s criminal justice and civil law systems.

But public education is a particularly important issue to Lujan, especially with the Texas Education Agency intervening in operations at two South Side public school districts because of governance issues.

Lujan said he wants to see increased school funding and performance as well as school board reform.

“Every year it takes to fix this, it’s another year that kids fall behind in competitiveness and preparation,” Lujan said. “We want to build up our future workforce and get creative with it.”

If elected, Lujan also wants to strengthen Child Protection Services, and raise visibility for agencies and organizations that help children in the foster care system. Three of his five sons are adopted.

“How many children like my boys have no opportunity for a better life?” he said. “There has to be a stronger awareness of the benefits of being a foster parent, adoption, and [Child Advocates of San Antonio volunteer].”

Pacheco supports capping property taxes for senior citizens statewide, saying seniors need all the help they can get as the cost of living rises.

“The seniors are on a fixed income,” Pacheco said. “They’re the ones I’m most concerned about.”

Pacheco backs higher funding for public education, partnerships to boost vocational education, and helping students considering a non-traditional route through postsecondary education.

Pacheco also wants to preserve the Hazlewood Act, which helps veterans and their dependents with college tuition and fees, widen access to health insurance, increase funding for road construction and other transportation options, and diversify the state’s revenue streams.

“With health care, I want [the Legislature] to look at the insurance industry and how it works,” he said.

Pacheco has gotten endorsements from unions such as the San Antonio Police Officers Association and American Federation of Teachers, and organizations such as San Antonio Board of Realtors and the Stonewall Democrats of Bexar County.

Lujan recently secured endorsements from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Ken Paxton, and State Sen. Pete Flores, who was recently elected in District 19.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.