Early voting began Monday in San Antonio to see who will replace former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, a two-term Democrat who resigned from Texas’ 118th district in August to teach public administration at San Antonio College.
The special election to replace Pacheco has produced two runoff candidates who continue to campaign against each other ahead of election day on Nov. 2, Democrat Frank Ramirez and Republican John Lujan.
Ramirez told the Signal he’s running to represent the community he grew up in and bring more infrastructure and education dollars to the region.
“I’m from the district through and through,” Ramirez said. “I grew up in the southside of San Antonio and I went to elementary, middle, and high school in the Harlandale Independent School District.”
After graduating from the University of Texas in 2016, Ramirez served as the chief of staff and legislative director to former state Rep. Tomas Uresti, a Democrat who briefly occupied the seat for one term during the 2017 session, the infamous bathroom bill session.
“Recognizing that our state has a lot of work to do to catch up educationally, to catch up in terms of business and property taxes and infrastructure. That was the motivating factor for me,” Ramirez said of running.
“And even though I saw a lot of bad things happen in the 2017 session, we also saw a number of good things happen,” Ramirez said. “85% of the bills that are filled in the Texas House of Representatives are bills that fit within the scope of an individual’s districts, and they’re doing good for as many Texans as possible.”
Ramirez then spent almost four years serving as the zoning and planning director of San Antonio City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval before departing in August to run for district 118.
The south San Antonio district has traditionally voted for Democrats. In 2020, Pacheco defeated his Republican opponent by almost 17 percentage points, a similar margin to Pacheco’s 2018 victory over Republican John Lujan.
Lujan was elected as the district representative in 2016 in a low turnout special election. He was ousted by Ramirez’s former boss Uresti in the general election several months later.
The Republican candidate’s campaign recently made headlines for allegedly having advanced knowledge of the special runoff election date — Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation on Oct. 11 setting the date for Nov. 2 election, but literature used by block walkers on the Lujan campaign suggested they knew at least eight days in advance. Lujan said the campaign literature was an educated guess considering the Nov. 2 election falls on the same day that Texans will vote on eight proposed constitutional amendments.
“If you have an election date certain and you know it, and you’re printing literature — in a campaign when you print things it’s not a light measure you take, you have to be certain — you have a duty as a public official and face of your party in this race to inform your residents of that date,” Ramirez said.
Acknowledging the hyperpartisanship by Republicans in Austin, Ramirez said he hopes to reach across the aisle where he can, especially on district-specific bills, such as addressing food deserts or building a bridge on the busy Roosevelt Ave to prevent pedestrian deaths. But when comes to the core tenants of the party and his values like voting access or abortion rights, Ramirez said he would be unwilling to compromise. When asked his thoughts on Democrats breaking quorum, he praised the caucus and said he would have stood alongside them.
Despite the district’s Democratic history, the party appears to be making plenty of noise about the race, presumably to avoid any low-turnout repeat of Lujan’s 2016 victory.
Whatever the case, the district in its current form will only last a few months before shifting over to new district lines. In the upcoming statehouse map, district 118 would become one the most competitive statehouse seat in Texas for the 2022 election.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com