On Monday, flanked by Gov. Greg Abbott and Speaker Dade Phelan (R), State Rep. Ryan Guillen finally announced from Floresville what many had long speculated: He was switching to the Republican party.

“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 Democrat Party of today, and I am proudly running as a Republican to represent House District 31.”

Guillen, the longtime moderate Democrat from Rio Grande City, becomes the first Republican to represent the RGV in the Texas Legislature, and he announced with celebration and support from Gov. Abbott, Speaker Phelan, and Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi. However, Guillen will now enter a primary where he has to court Republican voters and face challengers from his right.

Rumors of Guillen’s party switch were fueled by the fact that this year’s legislative session continued a long trend of Guillen voting with Republicans on multiple key issues. This year, he voted for the Texas Heartbeat Act and constitutional carry. Guillen touted his record Monday as a defender of unborn life and the Second Amendment. He was also one of the few House Democrats who did not flee to Washington, D.C., in the quorum bust. 

“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” explained Guillen.

However, he did not vote for the election integrity bill or for banning critical race theory. Guillen will now also have to answer to Republican primary voters for his fiscal record, as Texans For Fiscal Responsibility’s latest Index graded Guillen with a dismal 26 out of 100. While this score was the second highest among House Democrats, it also would have placed Guillen with the worst fiscal score among Republicans in 2021.

Guillen joins a primary race with retired Navy Captain Mike Monreal, who already announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination on a conservative platform of protecting the unborn, border security, and “fighting federal overreach from the Biden administration.” In contrast to Guillen’s voting record, Monreal voiced his opposition to critical race theory, stating he would “ensure that Texas children will be taught real history, not subjected to divisive subjects.” Notably, Guillen announced his party switch in Floresville, the same town where Monreal announced his candidacy.

In response to his flip, Monreal stated, “We welcome the 20-year Democrat incumbent. … It does come as a surprise, though, considering that according to The Texas Tribune, he endorsed Joe Biden for president just last year.” Questioning Guillen’s motive to flip after HD 31 was redrawn to favor Republicans, Monreal touted himself as a lifelong Republican and slammed Guillen as a career politician. “It’s time for a change! It’s time for a patriot to replace a politician!”

When questioned on his motives, Guillen pointed out that he still won re-election last year by 17 points, even while President Trump carried his district by 13. Texas GOP Chairman Rinaldi also stated his discussions with Guillen began long before redistricting began.

At the press conference, 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.” Guillen received a ringing endorsement from Speaker Phelan: “I am making it my personal mission to ensure that Rep. Guillen returns to the Legislature so we can continue the work for our great state.” Chairman Rinaldi also welcomed Guillen to the party, calling him a good friend and expressing his confidence that Rio Grande Valley voters will welcome him with “open arms.”

House District 31 extends from Starr County in the RGV up north to Wilson County on the outskirts of San Antonio. Rep. Guillen has represented HD 31 since 2002.

David Vasquez

David Vasquez is a native of the Rio Grande Valley, where he was born and raised in Weslaco, TX. He attended The University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor's degree in Government and a minor in English. Following graduation in 2019, David returned home and began writing for Texas Scorecard.