South Texas Democrat Ryan Guillen switches parties

South Texas Democrat Ryan Guillen switches parties

Isabel Webb Carey
Isabel Webb Carey
November 16, 2021

State Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City left the Democratic Party on Monday after recent redistricting made his district much more favorable to the GOP. 

Ranked the least liberal Democrat member of the Texas House this year, Guillen was first elected to the chamber in 2002 and represents House District 31. Following Hillary Clinton’s 13% victory in 2016, the district saw a huge swing in the 2020 presidential election where Trump won by the same margin. Guillen nonetheless won reelection last year by 17 points.

Guillen was joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan at a Floresville news conference where he made his announcement. He stated that 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. He went on to discuss problems at the border. 

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“Friends, something is happening in South Texas, and many of us are waking up to the fact that the values of those in Washington, D.C., are not our values, not the values of most Texans,” Guillen said. “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.”

Republicans welcomed his party switch as an indicator of changing political currents in predominantly Hispanic South Texas and a positive 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.

Both Phelan and Guillen sought to underplay the role that redistricting played in his decision and emphasized his conservative track record. Guillen was one of seven House Democrats who voted earlier this year to allow permitless carry of handguns. He was the only House Democrat to vote for the state’s new near-total ban on abortion. He stayed behind this summer when most House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., in protest of Republicans’ priority elections bill. And he was the only Democrat to vote last month for a bill preventing transgender students athletes from playing on teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Democrats, on the other hand, saw Guillen’s move as a tactical measure of political self-preservation. 

“Republicans cynically gutted Rep. Guillen’s district in the redistricting process, showing complete disrespect for both him and his constituents,” the head of the House Democratic Caucus, state Rep. Chris Turner, said in a statement. “Usually, people in Ryan’s position would choose to fight. Instead, he has chosen to join them.”

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Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey attends the University of Texas at Austin in the Plan II Honors Program with a certificate in Core Texts and Ideas. Her interests include education, local governance, sustainability, and equity. Isabel enjoys dancing, hiking, and live music. She is also a staff writer for the Texas Orator. Email her at [email protected]
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