Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson Suddenly a Republican

Another illustration of the weakness of the American party system.

Texas Tribune (“Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson switches to Republican Party“):

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a longtime Democrat, is now a Republican — turning Dallas into the largest city in the country with a GOP mayor.

“Today I am changing my party affiliation,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed published Friday in The Wall Street Journal. “Next spring, I will be voting in the Republican primary. When my career in elected office ends in 2027 on the inauguration of my successor as mayor, I will leave office as a Republican.”

Johnson served in the Texas Legislature for nine years as a Democrat before he was elected as Dallas mayor in 2019. Though the mayor’s position is technically nonpartisan, Johnson joins Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker as one of two Republican mayors to lead a major Texas city.

Johnson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Johnson’s switch came as little shock to Dallas political observers, who said he has been signaling for some time his leaning toward the GOP — and his distancing from Democrats.

“This is one of the worst kept secrets in the world of politics,” said Vinny Minchillo, a Dallas-area Republican consultant. “This has been coming down for a long time.”

State Rep. John Bryant, a Dallas Democrat, took to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to quip about Johnson’s announcement.

“Switching parties? I didn’t know he was a Democrat,” Bryant wrote.

In his op-ed, Johnson made the case for how his vision for Dallas aligns with the GOP, noting his support for law enforcement, low property taxes and fostering a business-friendly environment.

Over the course of his mayoral tenure, Johnson has enthusiastically backed anti-crime initiatives and developed a strong bond with Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia. He won reelection without opposition in May after sewing up the city’s business donor class, who often lean Republican, as well as the Dallas Police Association, the city’s police union.

“Mayors and other local elected officials have failed to make public safety a priority or to exercise fiscal restraint,” Johnson wrote in the op-ed. “Most of these local leaders are proud Democrats who view cities as laboratories for liberalism rather than as havens for opportunity and free enterprise.”

After his reelection this year, Johnson invited Texas’ two Republican U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, to attend his inauguration — which some observers complained improperly injected partisanship into a nonpartisan space.

Earlier this week, Johnson, along with four other Dallas council members, voted against the city’s $4.8 billion budget because he believed it did not sufficiently cut the city’s property tax rate. Cutting property taxes is a darling issue for the state’s top Republicans.

“Too often, local tax dollars are spent on policies that exacerbate homelessness, coddle criminals and make it harder for ordinary people to make a living,” Johnson wrote in the op-ed. “And too many local Democrats insist on virtue signaling — proposing half-baked government programs that aim to solve every single societal ill — and on finding new ways to thumb their noses at Republicans at the state or federal level. Enough. This makes for good headlines, but not for safer, stronger, more vibrant cities.”

Johnson certainly sounds like a traditional, pre-MAGA Republican on the issues. But, unless he suddenly decided crime was bad and low taxes good, it seems odd that he didn’t realize that by the time he ran for mayor is 2019. Or, certainly, by the time he ran for re-election four months ago.

No, something else must be going on.

Johnson’s party switch immediately makes him one of the most prominent Black Republicans in the country, a list that also includes South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Tim Scott and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Black voters still vote overwhelmingly Democratic, though the GOP has made gains among Black men in recent years.

Dallas is solidly Democratic, however. Dallas County went heavily for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, with Biden carrying the county by more than 30 percentage points. Some local politicians said Johnson’s decision puts him out of step with the city’s voters.


Politicos interpreted Johnson’s switch as a precursor to a potential bid for statewide office — which Democrats have been locked out of for decades.

“You’ve got to be a Democrat to win in Dallas,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “You’ve got to be a Republican to win in Texas.”


This move is cynical but shrewd. My druther in these situations is the Phil Gramm approach: resigning one’s post and running for re-election under one’s new party label. But that’s rare, indeed.

The professional pols are reacting precisely as one would predict:

Texas Republicans were quick to embrace Johnson as one of their own.

“Texas is getting more Red every day,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote on X. “He’s pro law enforcement & won’t tolerate leftist agendas.”

“To my friend and former colleague, welcome to the Republican Party!” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, said on X. “Mayor [Johnson] is absolutely right. Conservative policies are the key to safe, thriving, and successful cities. His leadership is a shining example of that. Great news.”

The Texas Democratic Party’s top officials, meanwhile, responded to the news with pure venom.

“In a city that deserves dedicated leadership, Mayor Johnson has been an ineffective and truant mayor, not only disconnected from Democratic values, but unable to even be an effective messenger for conservative local policy,” Gilberto Hinojosa and Shay Wyrick Cathey, Texas Democratic Party chair and vice-chair, wrote in a joint statement. “This feeble excuse for democratic representation will fit right in with Republicans — and we are grateful that he can no longer tarnish the brand and values of the Texas Democratic Party.”

Democrats took Johnson’s announcement as a betrayal — though perhaps not an unexpected one.

“It’s really unfortunate to see Mayor Johnson switch parties but also to turn his back on the electorate that’s gotten him this far in his political career,” said Kardal Coleman, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “This is no surprise to us. It’s the worst kept secret in Texas politics, but he’s choosing his personal ambitions over the good of the whole of Texas.”

I’m not a close enough observer of Texas politics to know how well Johnson is positioned to win a Republican primary for higher office. But, if a Democrat can’t win statewide, it’s a risk worth taking.

Regardless, the difference between Johson as a Democrat and Johnson as a Republican is simply what banner he chooses to run under. If, for some reason, he wanted to be a Democrat again next week, there’s nothing to stop him.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tony W says:

    Crime bad, low taxes good

    FWIW: I hate this positioning – it pretends that the only solution to crime is punishment. And it pretends that “low taxes” doesn’t just push the problem to other people and/or future generations.

  2. You beat me to this one, including the likely sub-title!

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W: They’re shorthands. Regardless, the point of the passage was that I’m skeptical Johnson has had a radical rethink of these issues since May.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Black man joins White supremacist party for reasons.

  5. DeD says:

    I moved to Texas in 2006 and have listened to the Texas GOP bleat about lowering high property taxes since. You know what? Property taxes are not only still high, they increase annually. So, yeah.

  6. DeD says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Thanks, MR. Because if I had to say it, Dr. J would probably ban me from the site. It just wouldn’t have come out as . . . affably as you put it.

  7. SenyorDave says:

    We are talking about the Texas Republican party here. Assume the worst.

  8. charontwo says:

    The TX GOP is dominated by Steven Hotze, who is sort of a super Christian zealot, the GOP’s “Godfather.” You do not get anywhere in TX statewide politics without being on the good side of Hotze.

    ETA: The Bush’s were once a separate power center, but are pretty much hors de combat now.

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    OMG, the MAYOR! Actually Dallas is the largest city in the country with a City Manager form of government (TC Broadnax, I knew the guy years ago, only reason I know this). The mayor of Dallas is the head of the city council, legislative, not the guy actually in charge of day-to-day operations and doesn’t have the power most folks assume a mayor has (like hiring and firing and whatever you see on TV). Yes, he is positioning himself for a higher statewide Texas run for something.

  10. al Ameda says:

    “This is Texas, if I want to be elected indefinitely in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, or to statewide offices – I can’t be a Democrat.

    And by the way, this is a very principled decision, one that I agonized over for ten seconds.”

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    Hah. “Texas is turning more red every minute”. I don’t think so Greg. Remember all those folks leaving California you love to crow about because it’s such a hellhole? Well, they turned CO blue, and they turned NM blue (and AZ is almost done). TX is within reach. If GA can go blue, so can TX.