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Gov. Abbott and state Rep. Ryan Guillen announce Guillen's switch to GOP

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and State Rep. Ryan Guillen were joining the governor to speak at Carvajal Coffee on Monday morning.
Credit: KENS

FLORESVILLE, Texas — The Texas Tribune contributed to reporting in this article.

Governor Greg Abbott joined state Rep. Ryan Guillen at a news conference to announce Guillen's switch to the Republican Party.

The press conference was held at  Carvajal Coffee in Floresville. They were joined by House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Rep. Ryan Guillen (District 31) of Rio Grande City says he is switching parties after Republicans made new inroads in South Texas and after redistricting made his district much more favorable to the GOP.

"What we are doing here is aligned with our values. The values that I hold dear, that I have always held dear, is aligned with the Republican Party," Rep. Guillen said at the press conference.

His decision is a boon for Republicans who have been working to show new strength in South Texas after President Joe Biden underperformed there in 2020.

Guillen’s more conservative voting track record among Democrats in 2021 and traditional Republican values also prompted the switch.

His list of priorities includes cutting taxes, creating jobs, and protecting oil field workers from layoffs.

James Henson, executive director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, noted the blue to red shift in certain regions of the state is nothing new.

“We certainly have seen movement within those groups, again particularly in rural and suburban areas, is a piece of the puzzle for Republicans,” Henson said.

In his support of Guillen, Abbott spoke about some Republican priorities such as border security and the oil and gas industry.

"Ryan Guillen talked about the importance of oil and gas jobs. They are good paying jobs here in Texas. The Republican Party will not allow the Democrats to crush the oil and gas jobs with the Green New Deal," Abbott said. "We do not support lawless open borders in the state of Texas. We will step up and support our border." 

The last state lawmaker to change parties was Rep. JM Lozano, R-Kingsville, in 2012. He was also a South Texas Democrat who made the decision to join the GOP after redistricting. 

Guillen is already well-known as an outlier in his caucus. He is the least liberal Democrat in the House, according to rankings from Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

The press conference came on the same day that former Congressman Beto O'Rourke announced he will run for Texas governor.

Abbott didn’t shy away from sharing his thoughts on O’Rourke’s announcement that he was running for governor.

“He wants to go take your guns. If Beto were to be elected governor in the state of Texas, there would be no one standing up securing our border like I’m doing every single day.”

In a then hypothetical match-up, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll revealed Abbott led O’Rourke 46% to 37%.

Texas’ historic winter storm is one of several issues the O’Rourke campaign is addressing.

 “From the power outages to the contentious political atmosphere to the handling of COVID. The Abbott campaign will try to make it about issues like public safety, the economy so that they can hang Joe Biden’s poor numbers in the state around Beto O’Rourke’s neck,” Henson said.