Major U.S. City Mayor Leaves Dems for GOP; But Why?
This morning, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP announced that Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is leaving the Democratic Party, following an opinion column written by the mayor explaining the switch.
“He’s pro law enforcement & won’t tolerate leftist agendas,” Abbott’s account on Twitter/X read.
But the enigmatic Johnson, formerly a member of the Texas House of Representatives for nearly a decade, has tolerated Leftist ideas before. He even pushed a few.
“I was never a favorite of the Democratic caucus, and the feeling was mutual,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal. “By the time I was elected mayor—a nonpartisan office—in 2019, I was relieved to be free from hyperpartisanship and ready to focus on solving problems.”
Political science professor Mark P. Jones rated Johnson as smack-dab in the middle among House Democrats in terms of his legislative voting record, with roughly half of the Democratic caucus scoring more conservatively. Americans for Prosperity Empower Texans both rated Johnson around 30% conservative on their scorecards. Similarly, anti-toll-road Texans United for Freedom gave Johnson an F. The venerable Young Conservatives of Texas rated his career at 16/100. In other words, he was a standard caucus vote, and not exactly a swing vote nor a “fiscally conservative” Democrat.
In the Texas House, he sat on the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, on which he voted to censure (though not impeach) outspoken conservative University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall. He joined efforts to remove Confederate memorials. Everything else is pretty indicative of the Democratic Party’s performance in the legislature over the past decade.
Johnson was liberal in the lege, yes, but not always hard Left. As mayor he kept that up. He supported a police-enforced curfew during BLM riots in 2020 as one example. He went along with the COVID-19 responses of most large-city mayors including lockdowns, and publicly took the vaccine to combat “misinformation.” But he stopped short of some of the draconian measures seen (and still seen) in some major urban areas.
In terms of the tax decrease Abbott mentioned, that depends on how that is defined. The tax rate went down, sure, but maybe not the levy. In savings for the average taxpayer, it was projected that the average homeowner could save $17, while others in and above the median would see an increase of $70 or more. Johnson has prided himself on not increasing Dallas’s budget as the population of the city has seen periods of decrease and leveling-off.
Johnson is married with three children, and in 2021, he became the first mayor in Dallas history to have a child while in office. He is a member of Mountain View Church of Christ, a fairly conservative, predominately black congregation.
FROM THE HIP: When this writer interviewed Johnson at his South Dallas campaign office for the now-defunct conservative journal the Lone Star Report, he was a candidate in the Democratic Primary. Johnson ended up winning that primary by an impressive 75%.
Johnson had the Good Book open on a coffee table — a well-worn and marked study Bible, and not obviously one for display’s sake. He seemed to be reading it as I arrived early. We talked Scripture briefly, when I learned he was part of the Churches of Christ. Johnson was more interested in getting down to business, however, where he spoke in pragmatic terms and not broad, philosophical strokes.
For those unfamiliar, the Churches of Christ is a fairly conservative denomination, even among predominately black churches that sometimes trend toward liberalism. I was hopeful he would be a rulebreaker in the House — think a lower-chamber version of Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. who often broke ranks to support socially conservative and pro-life legislation as much as it was feasible. Would he be any more conservative than the socially liberal and pro-choice Republican Rep. Sarah Davis? No such luck there.
Johnson, by my observation, was a cautious and calculating actor with a gift for building confidence in others, even chairing the Dallas legislative delegation.
The question remains whether Johnson is angling for a statewide seat — which would require tracking to the center — or whether the antics of the radical Left have finally pushed him over the edge to the right. Blexit is a very real phenomenon, as is #WalkAway, but we haven’t seen much other than a moderate degree of fiscal restraint that would signal a change in philosophy.
It may also be that the centrist element of the GOP is looking for allies following multiple county censure resolutions against moderate Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and the failed impeachment and removal effort against Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton. Where else can moderates draw from but the center-Left?
The GOP is not out-of-step to welcome a new voter and public official with open arms. But conservatives keeping score would be right to view this move with skepticism as campaign year 2024 begins to ramp up with its many surprises and sharp turns.