Texas state rep leaves Dems for GOP, slams left-wing policies

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Texas state rep leaves Dems for GOP, slams left-wing policies

Longtime Texas Democratic state Rep. Ryan Guillen announced Monday he is switching parties and joining the GOP, saying that his “fiscally conservative, pro-business, and pro-life values are no longer in step with the Democrat Party of today.”

Guillen made the announcement at a news conference alongside top Texas Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, and Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi.

Guillen, 44, was first elected to the Texas House in 2002 and represents the 31st District, which extends north from Starr County on the Mexico border to Atascosa County, just south of San Antonio and approximately 200 miles north of Guillen’s hometown of Rio Grande City.

The district is predominantly populated by Hispanic voters and has traditionally voted for Democrats. However, Joe Biden underperformed there in 2020 as areas near the border tilted Republican due to immigration issues.

“Friends, something is happening in South Texas, and many of us are waking up to the fact that the values of those in Washington, DC, are not our values, not the values of most Texans,” Guillen said, according to the Texas Tribune. “The ideology of defunding the police, of destroying the oil and gas industry and the chaos at our border is disastrous for those of us who live here in South Texas.”

Guillen’s defection caught the attention of the Republican National Committee, with chair Ronna McDaniel welcoming the lawmaker to the GOP in a statement.

Gov. Greg Abbott
State Rep. Ryan Guillen made the announcement at a news conference alongside Gov. Greg Abbott.
Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP

“The Republican Party is the party of faith, freedom, and opportunity, and we will continue to stand for these ideals in Texas and across the country,” McDaniel said. “With trailblazers like Representative Guillen, we will continue to make gains in South Texas and grow the party in our way to victories up and down the ballot in 2022.”

Since the election, boundary changes have made Guillen’s district more favorable to Republicans. State Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, accused Guillen in a statement of caving to those who had “cynically gutted” his district.

“Usually, people in Ryan’s position would choose to fight. Instead, he has chosen to join them,” Turner said. “Rep. Guillen probably doesn’t believe the Republican talking points he is repeating today, but he thinks they may help him get elected again. Ryan has run for office and been elected as a Democrat for 19 years. He has supported many key Democratic priorities, such as Medicaid expansion and investments in public education, while also opposing the so-called ‘election integrity’ bill.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, wipes perspiration during a meeting of the House-Senate negotiating committee that later approved the two-year $153 billion state spending plan Friday, May 25, 2007
Rep. Ryan Guillen was first elected to the Texas House in 2002.
AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

“It will be interesting to see how he explains his voting record to his new party, given Republicans’ hostility to affordable health care and the freedom to vote,” Turner added.

The political shift in the Texas border region represents bad news for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s chances of garnering enough support to pull off an unlikely victory. In his 2018 race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, O’Rourke won Starr County by a more than 3-to-1 margin. Just two years later, however, Biden edged out Trump in the county by just five percentage points.

Guillen is known to be a nonconformist within the Texas Democratic caucus, and was one of the least liberal Democrats in the state House, according to an analysis done by Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

Guillen was one of seven House Democrats who voted in August to allow permitless carry of handguns and was the sole Democrat to vote last month for a bill that would prevent transgender student athletes from participating on teams in accordance with their gender identity.

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