Hialeah Councilman Paul Hernandez said the public’s response has been mixed after he left the Republican Party following the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol and became a registered Democrat.
“In terms of reception, it’s varied,” he said. “You have the segment that completely just is quick to denounce you and categorize you and start mentioning communism and socialism, and that’s fairly on par with where this country has come to with its political landscape and divisiveness.”
However, Hernandez also said that most people have accepted his change and looked past his affiliation.
“But believe it or not, that’s been the minority,” said Hernandez. “A lot of people reached out to me and said, ‘You know what? You’ve been office for ten years; it really doesn’t matter what party you are.’ That’s something that really surprised me and I really appreciate it.”
Hernandez also said that this level of acceptance and cooperation is not seen in news, social media or in national politics.
“When you look at the divisiveness that permeates through American politics, there doesn’t seem to be so much room for that type of acceptance or ambiguity. If you are listening to the network news, that doesn’t exist. If you are learning about politics through social media, you won’t see much of that type of discourse.”
He made his decision to switch parties after Trump supporters laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hernandez said that when he watched the attack on the Capitol building, he was fed up.
“I switched parties on Jan. 6, on the night of the insurrection,” said Hernandez. “I watched furiously and heartbreakingly all day long. I saw violence, I saw anarchy, the disrespect to one of our most sacred governmental institutions.”
He said that he has not changed politically, he used to consider himself a “rational Republican.” But he said that the party has left him with nothing left to rationalize.
“I was the pro-LGBTQ, pro-science, anti-fracking Republican. I found myself at odds with Republicans for a long time,” said Hernandez. “But as time kept passing, I couldn’t help but see how those traditional republican notions of limited government really don’t exist in practice.”
Hernandez also said that watching his pregnant wife endure the pandemic as a frontline healthcare worker contributed to his switch.
“I couldn’t stand to see what she was going through, and then have to justify being a member of the party who dismissed the virus, told people not to wear masks, dismiss science constantly,” said Hernandez. “It angered me, and I didn’t feel like that was okay.”
He also expressed disappointment in the way the party has changed during the Trump administration.
“I was so dissatisfied and turned off by the direction of the party and its rhetoric; I think what we saw on Jan. 6 was a culmination of years of this trajectory,” said Hernandez.
The baseless attacks on the results of the presidential election also served as a catalyst for Hernandez’s switch.
“I studied law, I’m an elected official, I believe in the process,” said Hernandez. “To have seen from November to that day in January, people try to dismiss that election and try to disqualify tens of millions of votes to turn a presidential election. It disgusted me.”
This switch now makes Hernandez the only Democratic member in any office in Hialeah since former Mayor Raul Martinez, who held office from 1981 to 2005.
Hernandez said that it is important to remember that seats on the council are nonpartisan. However, the public is concerned with what party their potential council members are aligned with.
“When you’re walking door to door, a lot of people’s first question is what party you are affiliated with.”
Hernandez said that for the most part, his switch has been received well.
President of the Hialeah Republican Club Julio Martinez said that he is disappointed in Hernandez’s switch, but wishes him the best.
“I’m sad to see him go, but he’s free to do whatever he wants… he’s a good man with a great family.”
Although Martinez expressed regret with Hernandez’s decision, he is confident that Hialeah will remain steadily conservative.
“Hialeah is strongly Republican,” said Martinez. “Over 80% of Hialeah is Republican. One vote isn’t going to change that.”