How to Lose a Safe Seat
Dems point fingers after embarrassing defeat in HD 118
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00AM, Sat. Jan. 30, 2016
To lose a seat in a special election, as Oscar Wilde didn't quite say, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose a safe seat looks like carelessness. Now Texas Democrats are trying to work out how they lost one of the safest seats in the Texas House in a special election.
San Antonio's House District 118 should be the bluest of blue Democratic seats: blue collar, majority minority -- it ticks every box. On Tuesday, defying all political logic, Republican John Lujan took the seat with 52% of votes cast, beating Democrat Tomas Uresti by only 171 votes.
Time to head down the electoral rabbit hole. Up until August, HD 118 was held by Democrat Joe Farias, who quit the House to spend more time with his family. This left a vacancy to fill his expired term, and so a special election was called on Nov. 3 last year. Uresti and Lujan emerged from a field of six candidates (three Dem, three GOP) to head into yesterday's run-off.
Of course, the complicating factor is that this was only the run-off to the special election to finish Farias' unexpired term, which wraps up at the end of the year. There's still a primary and general election for the next two year term. Both Uresti and Lujan are on the March 1 ballot in their party primary races too, and both face challengers: Lujan by Robert Casias, and Uresti by Gabe Farias.
A further complicating factor: Tomas Uresti is the brother of Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, while Gabe Farias is the son of none other than retiring incumbent Joe Farias.
Struggling to slap a cheery face on this debacle, Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia wrote, "The newly elected Republican state representative of San Antonio will never take a vote in the legislature. Early voting for the Democratic primary starts in just 20 days, and we fully expect HD 118 to be a Democratic seat during the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017."
That may be so, with a high presidential election expected to increase turn-out in this supposedly safe Democratic seat. In the mean time, Republicans are positively giddy about taking this seat for the first time ever. The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee praised Speaker Joe Straus for adding the 99th 'R' to the caucus, while Republican talking head Matt Mackowiak took a pot shot on Twitter at "more good work from [Democratic campaign group Battleground Texas]."
Not every Democrat is upset about the loss. Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, proclaimed this morning that "the difference between Republican John Lujan and Democrat Tomas Uresti is the difference between cat shit and dog shit."
Calling the Republican "San Antonio's version of The Walking Dead," Espinoza then laid into Uresti for being a bad progressive: anti-choice, anti-equality, and anti-marriage equality. Instead, he's calling for Democrats to vote for Farias in the primary (even though he only came third in the special election first round). Espinoza continued, "Let's stop tip-toeing around the real issue here, Tomas Uresti lost tonight because he is a terrible progressive – why would Democrats feel motivated to turn out for him in a special election to support him?"
But that still can only partially explain how the Democrats couldn't rustle up a couple of thousand voters to keep their seat. Former Burnt Orange Report publisher KT Musselman took a swinging blow against the state party (of which he has been a long-term critic for its pusillanimousness), accusing state chair Gilberto Hinojosa and his staff of being more concerned with the primary in Austin's HD 49, where his daughter Gina Hinojosa is currently running to succeed the retiring Elliott Naishtat. Musselman tweeted, "Hey, they had to deliver votes for the Chair's daughter in HD-49 endorsements last night. Can't be everywhere man!"