With Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, at his side during a press conference, he explained his decision to leave the Democratic Party.
Guillen announced his exit from the Democratic Party less than two weeks after Republicans flipped a longtime Democratic seat in San Antonio.
Guillen has easily held Texas House District 31 for nearly two decades, while a Democrat had held Texas House District 118 for almost a decade until Republican John Lujan won the seat on Nov. 2, the Texas Tribune reported.
Similar trends had been noted following last year’s congressional elections, when then-President Donald Trump surprised many with his gains among the border regions.
Since then, the Biden administration has only exacerbated the issues that had led border residents—many of the Hispanic in heritage—away from their longtime support for Democrats.
Guillen’s former party scrambled to do damage control by insisting that he was simply a political pragmatist.
The leader of the Texas House Democratic Caucus claimed that he switched parties because the Republican-controlled legislature had gerrymandered his district and scared him into submission.
“Republicans cynically gutted Rep. Guillen’s district in the redistricting process, showing complete disrespect for both him and his constituents,” 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.”
Guillen easily won reelection in 2020—58.4% compared to 41.6%—even though Trump won the district by a wide margin, indicating that voters preferred Guillen for his beliefs rather than his party affiliation.
Prior to his announcement, an analysis concluded that Guillen was the least-liberal Democratic member of the Texas House.
Guillen voted this year in favor of constitutional carry, did not join his Democratic colleagues in fleeing the state to protest the election integrity bill, and voted to prevent men from participating in female sports.
No Texas representative has changed parties since 2012, when Rep. J.M. Lozano, another South Texas Democrat, became a Republican after winning election as a Democrat in 2010.