Retired firefighter and Republican John Lujan upended tradition and conventional wisdom Tuesday with a 171-vote win over Democrat Tomás Uresti, a Harlandale Independent School District board trustee and the brother of state Sen. Carlos Uresti in the special election for Texas House District 118.
“I feel the weight on my shoulders, but I’m happy about it,” Lujan said, declaring victory. He downplayed the import of a Republican victory in the Democratic Southside stronghold and said voters wanted someone who wasn’t from the Farias and Uresti families.
“I don’t want this to be a Democrat versus Republican deal,” Lujan said. “I’m here to serve all the people in District 118. They’re going to have a true servant.”
The dismal turnout suggests most of the district’s voters either do not care or did not know about today’s election.
Lujan held an eight point lead when early voting results were announced, but saw that lead narrow to less than two percentage points with the first 25 precincts reporting. By the time all 75 boxes were tallied, Lujan finished with 52.38% of the total to Uresti’s 47.62%. The race that drew only 3,601 of the district’s 87,384 voters to the polls. That’s a 4.1% turnout.
More people voted early than on Election Day, with 1,895 voting early while only 1,706 turned up at the polls on a cold, rainy Tuesday.
Since five-term state Rep. Joe Farias announced his retirement last June, the fight for his seat was seen as a battle between two prominent Southside families, both Democrat. Many expected Farias’ son and designated heir apparent, Gabe Farias, to finish strong in a crowded field.
That’s not how voters in the Nov. 3 General Election saw it. In a district long regarded as a Democratic stronghold, Lujan scored a surprise first-place finish with 29.28% of the vote, while Uresti finished with 22.25%. Gabe Farias managed to capture only 19.11%.
Farias declined to endorse Uresti, which undoubtedly kept some Farias voters at home for the second round.
“This is just a hiccup in the road to taking the seat back to where it was,” Uresti said after all the votes were counted. “Now we got to get ready for tomorrow, because tomorrow begins the race for the March primary.”
Uresti acknowledged the lack of party unity hurt him Tuesday.
“It is unfortunate that we didn’t have the backing of some Democrats, one in particular, that didn’t support us,” Uresti said, inferring that Farias and his supporters even crossed party lines to help defeat him. “When you have someone from your same party voting for the opposite party, rather than coming on board and standing next to me, that’s a major hit. I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost the election, but it sure didn’t help.”
Uresti hopes Tuesday’s outcome serves as a wakeup call for the district’s Democratic majority.
“I think people are going to be very upset that this seat was lost because we didn’t have the backing of voter turnouts,” he said. “Its a totally different race in March so we’ll be able to come back then.”
Tuesday’s winner will serve out Rep. Joe Farias’ unexpired term and then face a March primary election and a challenge in the Nov. 8 General Election. In all likelihood, Lujan and Uresti will face each other again later this year.
Click here to see final election returns.
Lujan was surrounded by Bexar County Republican leadership at his election watch party, including Sheriff Susan Pamerleau and Robert Stovall, chairman of the Republican Party of Bexar County. Despite Lujan’s call for more bipartisan representation, many Republicans see this as a turning of the Southside tide.
“Bexar was – and is – the swing county in Texas. Now the Democrats can’t even hold on to their home turf on the Southside,” stated Stovall. “Bexar County is now the template for national Republicans to learn how to win Hispanic votes.”*Top image: Republican John Lujan celebrates his victory. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone