Republican leaders are going all in to protect a state House seat they’ve long believed was safely in the GOP column, fearing recent shifts in the political winds could jeopardize Rep. Steve Allison’s bid for a third term.

Allison has kept the seat in Republican hands since former GOP House Speaker Joe Straus retired in 2018. Allison defeated Democrat Celina Montoya by more than 8 percentage points and won by a slightly larger margin in a rematch in 2020.

This year Allison, one of only two Republicans in Bexar County’s current state House delegation, faces Becca Moyer DeFelice, a former nonprofit consultant and gun safety advocate who brought in more cash than him during the most recent campaign finance reporting period — though the incumbent is getting significant help with his campaign from party leaders.

In monetary contributions reported between July 1 and Sept. 30, DeFelice raised about $106,000 while Allison raised $66,000. They each entered the final month of the campaign with roughly $79,000 in the bank, though Allison’s total includes a personal loan of $235,000 from a previous campaign and DeFelice’s includes a personal loan of $5,000.

Included in Allison’s fundraising is more than $190,000 in in-kind contributions.

Allison received a $15,000 cash contribution from his colleagues in the Texas House Republican Caucus PAC. He also received in-kind contributions of advertising, research and surveys worth roughly $48,000 from House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization that helps elect Republicans to statewide and state legislative positions, spent almost $100,000 on advertising and grassroots campaign services for Allison. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, another major funder of Republican candidates, reported spending almost $12,750 on polling in the district in mid-August, as well as $38,000 on a direct mail campaign for Allison the following month.

DeFelice received some smaller contributions from labor groups like Fair Shot Texas PAC, which chipped in $15,000 worth of campaign advertising and salaries, and the Texas American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and the Communications Workers of America, which gave her campaign $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.

“That [race is] kind of the crystal ball that everyone’s trying to figure out,” said Kelton Morgan, a San Antonio-based Republican political consultant.

“If suburban white women are pissed off enough about [abortion rights] that they’re actually going to vote for Democrats, that’s the race where you’re going to see it,” Morgan said, referring to the Supreme Court case that overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June, triggering a state law that makes performing an abortion a felony.

Becca Moyer-DeFelice, Democratic HD-121 candidate speaks with community members during the Northside Alliance political forum on Tuesday.
Becca Moyer DeFelice, the Democratic candidate for Texas House District 121, speaks with community members during the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance political forum on Tuesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Texas’ House District 121 starts near Alamo Heights and stretches northwest up to Timberwood Park. It was redrawn in 2021 to remove some of Terrell Heights and Olmos Park while gaining some of Stone Oak.

“When the state started going Republican back in 1980-1984, it was these kinds of districts that went Republican first, basically the wealthier districts, and then it was suburbs,” said Craig Murphy, an Austin-based political consultant who has worked for both Allison and Straus. “Then in the Trump years, Republicans have had some erosion in the wealthiest areas, as well as in some suburban areas, so it was these kind of districts that were affected more.”

Murphy said he’s confident the incumbent can withstand any political headwinds. Allison has lived in the district for 45 years, where he worked as a business attorney and served in a number of other political roles, including eight years on the board of VIA Metropolitan Transit.

DeFelice, who ran unsuccessfully for the district’s Democratic nomination in 2020, contends that the district’s mood has changed since Republicans pushed through what they’re calling the most conservative agenda in history last legislative session.

“If you look back on Joe Straus’ last session in 2017, all of the things that he stood in the breach to stop: permitless carry, guns everywhere, the bathroom bill, and some of the more extreme abortion bills. All of those issues ended up passing in the last session,” said DeFelice said in an interview.

She agreed that many voters still see Allison as a moderate, but her campaign and an outside group that supports Democrats, Fair Shot Texas PAC, are working to change that perception.

DeFelice sent direct mail ads to district residents pointing out Allison’s support for the state’s six-week abortion ban, which preceded the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Fair Shot Texas is running digital ads on the same topic.

She also is trying to highlight his support for the state’s new voting law, as well as a law to require transgender athletes to compete on teams that correspond to their gender at birth. Allison is listed as a sponsor for all three pieces of legislation.

“The accountability piece is incredibly important to me,” said DeFelice. “When someone campaigns as a moderate … the expectation is that they hold to that when they’re in Austin, and that they don’t try to take advantage of the fact that people aren’t always paying incredibly close attention to every single bill that passes.”

Asked about the Legislature’s moves to restrict abortion rights, Allison called the laws a victory for people trying to protect the lives of unborn children, and said the legislation offered plenty of protections for pregnant women.

“The ‘heartbeat bill’ had very vague and general language about [allowing abortions in the case of] medical emergency that would have covered anything,” Allison said earlier this month at a candidate forum at the Towers on Park Lane retirement community. “The trigger bill has [exceptions for] life of mother.”

But Allison said the Legislature would likely tweak the law in the next session to make it “more reasonable” — an idea other Republicans say is unlikely given the current makeup of the GOP conference.

“I’m confident we’re going to see a bill come forward that proposes exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother, and maybe even further, to profound defects with the the fetus,” Allison said. “… But we cannot lose sight of the sanctity of life.”

At a candidate forum hosted by the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance, a group of neighborhood associations, at the Northeast Service Center Monday night, Allison pointed to some of the issues on which he has parted from the conservative wing of his party, like local control and supporting public schools.

“Education is near to my heart,” said Allison, a former president of the Alamo Heights Independent School District board. “We’ve got to deal with school safety. We’ve go to address the learning loss that was suffered through the pandemic. We’ve got to address our teachers that have been neglected too long, compensation-wise, respect-wise. We’ve got to restore the partnership between parents, teachers and administration.”

Allison concedes, however, that his vision isn’t always embraced in a party that has shifted right.

His comments about supporting public schools come as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has committed to pushing a voucher program that public school advocates oppose. Allison also said he would be open to changing gun laws after the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary — an idea GOP leaders rejected.

In response to question at Monday’s forum about lowering property taxes, Allison said he has filed two bills to address the issue that hadn’t gained traction, though he was optimistic about the prospects for property tax relief in the upcoming session, which begins in January.

He also touted his relationships with state leaders as a principal reason he should get a third term.

“What I bring, I think, is qualifications,” said Allison. “Experience, respect of my colleagues, respect from those who support this district and this state, and the result is I’ve been very, very effective.”

At the same event, DeFelice drew applause for her own ideas to improve school security, including new gun safety measures. She and her husband have lived in San Antonio for 17 years and have a 12-year-old daughter who attends public school.

“I’ve been a gun owner almost my entire life, and I know that background checks keep us safe,” DeFelice said, who grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. “I know that I don’t want someone who’s been convicted of beating their spouse to hold a gun. I also know that the laws that were passed over the last two sessions weakened our gun laws, and we are seeing an increase in crime because of that.”

She also laid out plans to focus on issues that appeal to more conservative voters.

“My goal is to make sure that everybody in this room feels the benefit of the state Legislature,” she said, “that we’re passing real property tax reform, not just something on paper that says we reformed taxes, but that we don’t feel at our kitchen tables.”

This article has been updated to reflect that Rep. Steve Allison’s loan to his campaign occurred during a previous election cycle.

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.