Facing a rising Republican tide in South Texas and a growing gap between himself and the national Democratic Party, Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City) announced he was switching parties.

“After much consideration and prayer with my family, I feel that my fiscally conservative, pro-business and pro-life values are no longer in-step with the Democratic Party of today,” Guillen said in a statement. “I have found that my core beliefs align with the Republican Party.” According to Rice Univ.’s Mark Jones, Guillen was the most conservative member of the Democratic caucus during the 2021 legislative session.

Combined with Rep.-elect John Lujan’s (R-San Antonio) recent special election victory, House Republicans have increased their majority to 85-65.

Guillen was first elected in 2003 after ousting then-Rep. Ignacio Salinas Jr. (D-San Diego) in the primary and has been re-elected nine times, mostly unopposed. His lone primary challenger has been Rio Grande City attorney and District Judge Ana Lisa Garza, who received 45% of the vote in the 2018 primary despite Guillen’s spending nearly $1M.  She raised nearly $200K for the race, about a fourth of which were unusual in-kind contributions.

He has faced just two Republican challengers in nearly 20 years. In 2012, he defeated Charlotte small business owner Ann Matthews, 66%-34%. In 2020, he defeated Poteet real estate broker Marian Knowlton, 58%-42%. The district’s partisan lean changed dramatically between those two elections. In 2012, HD31 was nearly 21 points bluer than the state as a whole. Eight years later, it had swung more than 19 points toward the Republicans to just 1.4 points bluer than the state. The average Democrat in the district took 63% of the vote in 2012 but just 47% in 2020.

Guillen over-performed other contested Democrats in those two elections. He fared 3.2% better than the average Democrat in his district in 2012 and was nearly 12 points better than the average Democrat in 2020. That means roughly one out of every five people in the district who voted mostly for Republicans cast their ballot for Guillen.

As it was redrawn during redistricting, HD31 is now nearly 6 points redder than the state as a whole – another 7-point shift. Repeating his 12-point over-performance may not be enough to retain his seat as a Democrat. In our preliminary analysis, the redrawn HD31 would have been rated Likely Republican, but we accounted for Guillen’s past over-performance and rated it Lean Republican. With Guillen’s announcement, we have changed the rating to Likely Republican.

Fate of Recent Party Switchers

Guillen is the first legislator to switch parties since Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), who became a Republican in March 2012 after initially being elected as a Democrat in 2010.

Like Guillen, Lozano found himself in a newly drawn district that was becoming increasingly challenging for Democratic candidates to win. Running in 2012 as a Republican for the first time, Lozano was forced into a runoff, which he won, 54%-46%, and then he defeated former Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles (D-Alice), 52%-48%, in the 2012 general election. He has so far been unopposed in the primary ever since, and his vote share in the general election has not dropped below 61%. He ran unopposed in 2020.

Other recent party switchers have not shared Lozano’s electoral success. Former Reps. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) and Aaron Peña (R-Edinburg) switched parties weeks after winning re-election as Democrats in 2010. Ritter was re-elected as a Republican in 2012 then did not seek re-election in 2014. Peña never sought re-election as a Republican, and in fact no Republican sought his seat.

Rep. Chuck Hopson (R-Jacksonville) was elected five times as a Democrat before switching parties in late 2009. He was re-elected in 2010, winning a three-way primary outright, but lost the 2012 Republican runoff to Thomas Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), 51%-49%. Rep. Kirk England (D-Grand Prairie) won a special election and was elected to a full term as a Republican in 2006 before switching parties after the 2007 legislative session. He was re-elected as a Democrat in 2008 but lost his 2010 re-election bid to Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) by 204 votes.

In the 1990s, former Reps. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), Billy Clemons (R-Groveton) and Bernard Erickson (D-Cleburne) switched parties while in office. Only Chisum won re-election, and he continued to be re-elected as a Republican until he unsuccessfully ran statewide in 2012. Clemons switched to a Republican in late 1995 and lost the 1996 general election to Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) by just over 1K votes. Erickson, who switched from Republican to Democrat, lost the 1994 general election to Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) by 46 votes. He lost a 1996 rematch by more than 3K votes.

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