Democratic state Sen. Elbert Guillory said Friday he is leaving “the party of disappointment” to join the ranks of Republicans.
With the move, the Opelousas conservative becomes the only black Republican in the Louisiana Legislature and the Republican delegation’s first black member.
Guillory made the announcement as he received the Frederick Douglass Award at a national conference of black conservative leaders in Baton Rouge. Douglass escaped from slavery and became a leader in the abolitionist movement in 19th century America.
Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana State Democratic Party, called the party switch “a craven display of political opportunism.”
Handwerk called on Guillory to resign his Senate seat “since he has chosen to abandon the Democratic Party values that the voters elected him to represent.” He said Guillory is aligning himself with the party that has stood with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “failed policies and against working families in Acadiana.” He said Louisiana Republicans have opposed equal pay for women and expansion of Medicaid to cover more of the state’s uninsured.
Guillory, a lawyer, has worked with Jindal on several issues, most prominently in efforts to revamp the state employee pension system.
“As of this day, I join Frederick Douglass as a Republican,” Guillory, 68, said as he wrapped up a speech blistering the Democratic Party. The move is a return to Republican Party registration for Guillory.
“Today the party of disappointment has moved away from the majority of Louisiana. They have moved away from traditional values of most Americans,” Guillory said in prepared remarks. “They have left us behind on crucial issues like abortion, vouchers, Second Amendment rights, union control of public jobs, school prayer, family issues.”
Guillory said the biggest disappointment for him has been the party’s role in the breakdown of families.
“Their support of dependency over self-reliance, of everything but traditional marriage, of abortion on demand, their policies have encouraged the high teen birth rates, high school drop out rates, high incarceration rates and very high unemployment rates,” Guillory said. “Our self-initiative and self-reliance are sacrificed in exchange for votes for the party of disappointment.”
“The list of disappointments is long,” Guillory said, noting “the lies and cover-up at Benghazi, the IRS harassing the tea party and wiretapping and spying on reporters.”
He decried federal Democratic initiatives to stop drilling after the BP disaster as well as efforts to “confiscate all guns.”
Guillory said under Republicans the black community has “gotten some pretty good deals.”
Among them, he said, are fighting for black rights during and after the Civil War, helping Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pass the 1965 Civil Rights Act over the objection of most Southern Democrats, and Republican President Richard Nixon opening the doors to higher education and to government contracting for minorities.
The 39-member Senate now has a historic high of 25 Republicans. Senate and House delegation membership hits 83 legislators.