The day after Republican John Lujan won a special election for Texas House District 118, he found himself pulled away from his work as the owner of two businesses while fielding phone calls from well-wishers, including some political figures he holds in great esteem.

“Sen. [John] Cornyn called to congratulate me,” Lujan said. “That was a big honor. And then [former Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo — I got to meet him a couple of weeks ago and we took a picture and we had a good discussion. Then this morning, he called me and then we had a good 30-minute conversation. It was really awesome to speak with a man I admire.”

Lujan’s victory was one of many Republicans’ celebrated Tuesday night, including the Virginia gubernatorial race, where Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020.

On Tuesday, less than 300 votes propelled Lujan into the Texas House seat. He and Democrat Frank Ramirez made it to a runoff after getting the most votes in a Sept. 28 special election for HD 118, which covers much of south Bexar County and parts of the east and northeast.

This is not Lujan’s first time in office. In 2016, Lujan won a special election for the same seat. He subsequently lost it later that year to former state Rep. Tomas Uresti, a Democrat. Lujan lost again in 2018, to former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, also a Democrat. Pacheco won reelection in 2020 but resigned in August to take a job with San Antonio College.

The tight race came as no surprise, especially in a runoff declared one week before early voting started. But as HD 118 has had its boundaries redrawn during the Texas Legislature redistricting process, Lujan’s chances of holding on to the seat may have increased. 

In 2020, Biden won HD 118 with 56% of the vote. With the new district lines and the same voter activity, Biden would have won with only about 51% of the vote, according to the Texas Tribune.

But even with new district boundaries in 2022, people should not pin too much significance on the outcome of the HD 118 special election, cautioned Jon Taylor, political science professor and department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“It sheds light only in the sense that Republicans can crow about a state house seat that was vacated, in which the person who won has done this before and may not win reelection in 2022,” Taylor said. “It does not portend some sort of major shift in Texas politics.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, agreed. Off-cycle elections in Bexar County typically see low voter turnout, especially among Democratic voters.

“It’s hard to make broad inferences,” he said.

Lujan credited his victory to a last-minute effort to get voters to the polls on Election Day. The special election runoff and statewide constitutional amendment election were on two separate ballots, and not every vote center in Bexar County had the ballots for HD 118. Lujan’s campaign went through the list of voters who cast ballots in the constitutional amendment election but not in the special election runoff, he said, and then he, his family, and volunteers called those people to urge them to vote on Nov. 2.

“A lot of people didn’t realize, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go back out again,’” he said. “I said, ‘Yes, you’ve got to go vote a second time.’”

That double-ballot issue also makes Lujan think his chances of reelection in 2022 are much stronger. Without requiring people to vote at specific locations and on two separate ballots, he predicted his victory would have been larger.

Either way, Lujan was more successful at turning out voters during the runoff.

“Campaigns are about fundamentals,” Rottinghaus said. “It’s not rocket science. The technology has changed, but the fundamentals have not — it’s still about connecting with voters and making sure they come out to vote.”

Though he said he would be surprised to see a primary challenger in March, Lujan can expect at least one Democratic opponent in 2022. Ramirez told supporters Tuesday night that he would return for the March primary and run for HD 118 once more.

During the campaign, Lujan not only cited his previous time as the HD 118 representative but as a businessman as well. He owns IT company Sistema Technologies and consulting firm Y&L Consulting. He worked at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy for six years and at the San Antonio Fire Department as a firefighter for 25.

Lujan will serve the rest of Pacheco’s term, which runs until the end of 2022. Though he will likely not see a legislative session before then, Lujan said he already has a list of items to address. He hopes to meet with superintendents of school districts within HD 118 to find out where things are working and where they are not, as well as speaking with foster care agencies and stakeholders about the ongoing foster care crisis.

“I’m going to have the power of a title,” he said. “That’s what I learned when I won the last time and I wasn’t in session, so I want to do that now. If I don’t get elected, I use this time wisely and get things done for the betterment of our community.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.