(Yahoo) State Rep. Ryan Guillen left the Democratic Party on Monday, giving members of his new party something to crow about as Republicans seek to solidify recent gains in South Texas.
At a Floresville news conference joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, Guillen said the Democratic Party fell out of step with his core beliefs, particularly his opposition to abortion and support for gun rights and fiscal conservatism.
“The ideology of defunding the police, destroying the oil and gas industry and opening our border has disastrous consequences for those of us who live in South Texas,” said Guillen, who spent 19 years as a House Democrat.
Republicans gladly welcomed Guillen into the fold, embracing his party switch as a sign of the times for a 2022 election cycle that appears to be trending poorly for Democrats across the country.
“Ryan’s decision to leave the Democratic Party is proof of the growing frustration with the DNC’s radical ideologies and the Biden administration’s failed border plan, attacks on the oil and gas industry, and overreaching mandates,” Phelan said.
Democrats cautioned against reading too much into the party switch, portraying it as a cynical move to stay in elective office after GOP redistricting maps made Guillen’s district more favorable to Republican candidates.
“Rep. Guillen probably doesn’t believe the Republican talking points he is repeating today, but he thinks they may help him get elected again,” said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Guillen has long supported Democratic priorities, Turner added, including Medicaid expansion and higher spending on public education, as well as voting against the Republicans’ sweeping voting and election bill last summer.
“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 said.
Guillen brushed aside such concerns, saying voters have looked at his record, not his party affiliation, in a district he won last year by 17 points while former President Donald Trump prevailed by 13 points.
“I have found that my core beliefs align with the Republican Party. I am confident that my switch today is the right decision,” he said.
Guillen was 24 when he was elected to the Texas House in 2002, and the Rio Grande City resident was among the least liberal Democrats in the lower chamber. He declined to join Democrats who traveled to Washington last summer to break quorum to delay the GOP voting bill, and he was the only House Democrat to vote in favor of a bill to bar transgender student-athletes.
At Monday’s news conference, Phelan said it was no secret that Republicans were wooing Guillen, while Abbott said the party switch was all but inevitable.
“It’s something that has been, candidly, the worst-kept secret in the Capitol. Everybody has known that Ryan Guillen is really a Republican who is attached to the wrong label,” Abbott said. “Ryan, we’re glad you finally came out of the closet.”
In the 2022 election, Guillen’s House District 31 will stretch from Starr County on the border with Mexico to Wilson County to the southeast of San Antonio. In its new configuration, Trump would have almost doubled his 13-point margin from 2020 in the district.
Republican Mike Monreal, a retired U.S. Navy captain from Floresville, previously announced that he would run in the district.
Guillen’s switch, coupled with John Lujan’s victory in a Nov. 2 special election that flipped a Democratic seat in southern Bexar County, gives Republicans an 85-65 advantage in the Texas House. With Guillen, Lujan and JM Lozano of Kingsville, there are now three Latino Republicans serving in the Texas House.