About last night: Republican flips historically Democrat-leaning Texas House seat

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Texas got a little redder last night. In a runoff election to fill a vacant seat, Texas House District 118, Republican John Lujan defeated Democrat Frank Ramirez. This is a political upset worth noting because the district is a majority-Hispanic one and brought a higher than normal voter turnout. It is a historically Democrat-held district.

Democrats carried the district by double digits during the last election cycle. This bodes well for Republicans who are cautiously optimistic about making inroads into traditionally Democrat-controlled South Texas. Lujan’s victory should be seen as validation that Hispanic voters are open to strong messages in support of border security, public safety, and job creation because that is what Lujan based his campaign on. Hispanic voters, contrary to popular belief, are not opposed to securing the southern border or voting against illegal immigration. The reality is that most Hispanic residents in border states like Texas who came here legally and didn’t break the law resent those who jump the line and expect to be allowed to stay. Republican candidates would do well to understand that and be bold enough to campaign as such.

Ramirez led early and won the absentee vote but Lujan beat Ramirez on election day votes. It was a squeaker – Lujan won by 286 votes.

This was a runoff race after a special election in September. Interestingly enough, Lujan won this same seat in a special runoff in 2015. He went on to lose the seat in 2016. Lujan will have to run in the primary in 2022 when the seat is up for election again. Ramirez vows to run again for the seat. Lujan won’t be able to file legislation until after next year’s general election if there is not another special session of the Legislature. The House reconvenes again in 2023. This victory, nonetheless, is a setback for Democrats already struggling to hold on to seats they now fill in the Texas Legislature.

Mr. Ramirez conceded late Tuesday in a blow for Democrats in San Antonio, a majority Latino metropolis 150 miles north of the Mexican border that is known for its deep Mexican American roots. About 70 percent of the largely working-class families in the 118th District identify as Hispanic.

There was some confusion for voters about the runoff election. Both candidates were angered about how it was handled. Voters had to vote twice.

Abbott didn’t announce the runoff date until the Monday before early voting, making it too late to include both contests on the same ballot. That meant residents had to vote twice to cast a ballot in the House race and the general election.

Lujan said both candidates will claim to have lost votes over the confusion.

Lujan acknowledged the difficulties saying the lack of being able to vote at any polling site in Bexar County like voters could in the constitutional amendment election made the election confusing.

“It was challenging and I’m not going to be a crybaby about it — you know — I’m upset about it. I know my competitor, he’s upset about it,” Lujan said. “It was two spots to vote in the whole district for early voting in the South Side, one in the North Side. I think we lost a lot of votes and he’s going to claim he lost a lot of votes just by the confusion.”

Lujan provides a way forward for Republicans to continue to win in South Texas if Republican candidates embrace it.

To cheers from his supporters at PicaPica Plaza, Mr. Lujan said the result showed that his platform of public safety, border security and job creation was appealing to Latinos.

“This speaks loudly that people are concerned about conservative values,” he said. “You know, we want to secure our border, we want to grow our economy.”

After none of the three Democrats and two Republicans who ran in the special election in September received a majority of votes, Mr. Lujan delivered a seat critical to the Republican Party’s efforts to make inroads in South Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott and Dade Phelan, the speaker of the House, both called to congratulate him on Tuesday night.

Democrats take the vote of Hispanics for granted. Recent elections prove that they are willing to listen to conservative values and economic policies that create jobs and lower taxes. The key is to not be afraid to address social issues. Address the crisis on the southern border and the failures of the Biden administration to secure the border to make our communities safe. Hispanic families want the same things as others. Lujan, a retired firefighter who now owns his own business, wants to focus on the foster care system and education.

“Foster children — kids in foster care — the way that’s been handled, that is something very passionate to me,” Lujan said. “I have three adoptive children. I’ve been through the process and there’s a lot of little things that we can do to put a framework in place to make this advantageous for the kids, as well as making sure that we make it easier for the families to adopt children.”

The Democrats’ dream of a blue Texas doesn’t look likely to happen next year. Biden carried the district by 14 points in 2020. Voters are saying no to the Biden agenda.