Former San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan has put $400,000 of her own money behind her bid for a political comeback in Texas House District 122.

Chan represented District 9 on City Council from 2009 to 2013, before resigning to wage an unsuccessful primary challenge to Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell.

In March, Chan emerged as the first place finisher in a four-way Republican primary to replace state Rep. Lyle Larson, who declined to seek reelection. Chan took 37% of the primary vote, advancing to a May 24 runoff with former Bexar County Republican Chair Mark Dorazio, who got 27%. The seat in far North Bexar County is considered safely Republican. 

Campaign finance reports filed earlier this week indicate Chan has raised $168,000 since the March primary and had $94,000 in the bank headed into the campaign’s final days. She spent $564,000 on the race against Dorazio, $512,000 of which went to the Republican consulting firm Murphy Nasica for TV ads, mailers and other services. 

Chan declined several requests to be interviewed for this story.

“People like to see that you’ve invested in yourself when they decide to also invest [in a campaign],” said Craig Murphy, Chan’s political consultant who has worked for Larson and former House Speaker Joe Straus.

Dorazio, who owns a construction company, is contributing his own money to his race, too. A longtime party precinct chair, he has raised $96,000 since the primary and loaned himself $200,000. He spent close to $300,000 on the race against Chan and reported $57,000 in the bank for the final stretch.

Dorazio did not respond to interview requests.

Money aside, the runoff pits a candidate favored by the party’s more pro-business wing — Chan — against an opponent who bills himself as an “authentic conservative” endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“[This race offers] a really clear distinction between the conservative grassroots side of the party and the business establishment, moderate wing in the party,” said Luke Macias, a Republican strategist working for a group that supports Dorazio in the race. “It’s one of the clearest battlegrounds within the whole state.”

Texas House District 122 candidate Mark Dorazio
Texas House District 122 Republican runoff candidate Mark Dorazio Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Since advancing from the primary, Chan has received endorsements from the business-backed Associated Republicans of Texas and Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose campaign gave roughly $25,000 of in-kind mail and grassroots support to help her. 

Meanwhile, Dorazio has benefited from the anti-establishment Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which spent big attacking Chan over a 2006 donation she made to then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Dorazio also received contributions from members of the Texas House’s most conservative wing, Reps. Briscoe Cain and Mayes Middleton.

Those close to Chan agree her politics have evolved since she was elected to City Council more than a decade ago. 

A native of Taiwan, Chan is the only woman and only minority District 9 has ever elected. While on council she served as the main voice opposing then-Mayor Julian Castro and focused her attention on wasteful spending.

In 2013, she shocked colleagues with comments about LGBTQ people that were leaked to the press during a discussion about a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. 

“She became really well known for being a social issue fighter. … But that was really by accident,” said Roger Legrand, a political consultant who worked in Chan’s council office at the time. 

“What she is at her base is a business Republican,” added Legrand. “She just had this very ‘I don’t give a f—‘ attitude when she was negotiating with city staff. That was cool.”

Since leaving city government, Chan has focused on growing the engineering firm she started with her husband, Unintech, including buying out several other companies. She’s also spearheaded an effort to bring more Asian Americans into the Republican Party, co-founding a San Antonio branch of the statewide Texas Asian Republican Assembly. 

Now as she campaigns for a role in the Texas Legislature, Chan is leaning into some of the culture wars that once ostracized her on City Council, but have since become major rallying points in today’s GOP. 

“I fought against the radical policies of liberal Julian Castro and LGBTQ woke policies when I served on the City Council,” she tweeted Wednesday. “I’ll continue fighting tooth and nail for our conservative values in the Texas House.”

Of her donation to Hillary Clinton, Murphy said it was “a very small amount a very long time ago and before Chan was in politics.” He noted that Chan supported former President Donald Trump in 2016 and donated to Trump’s campaign.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.