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Dawnna Dukes' Would-Be Opponents Say She Misled Voters

Ilana Panich-Linsman for KUT
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes after winning re-election in 2014.

This week, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, announced that she plans to stay in office.

It was just last year that she told voters, as she was running for re-election for House District 46, that she would resign at the beginning of this legislative session. At the time, she cited health reasons. The announcement also came while Dukes was under a criminal investigation, an investigation which is still ongoing.

It was too late to take Dukes' name off the ballot, though. So, Dukes, said if she won, she would be sworn in and would subsequently resign.

"So, now we got five people who are hellbent on running and none of them are going to get a chance to."

Dukes’ reversal means a lot of her constituents who might have thought they were voting for a special election that, now, may not happen.

After being sworn in on Tuesday, Dukes, who represents parts East and Central Austin, told reporters she was convinced by supporters to stay put.

“I listened to constituents who requested over and over and over again since my announcement that I would reconsider that I would come back,” she said. “Election Night they pressed harder and harder and reminded me that I had won with 70 percent, even though I didn’t campaign.”

That same day, Travis County prosecutors announced they would ask a grand jury to indict her over allegations Dukes misused campaign funds and tampered with government documents. To folks who were expecting her to resign, the change of heart was pretty frustrating.

Kevin Ludlow is a libertarian in Austin who has run against Dukes a couple times now. He called Duke’s decision to not resign “sheer arrogance.”

Ludlow says he planned to run again in a special election for her seat, but waited to announce until Dukes formerly resigned and a special election was called.

“It’s one of those things where it doesn’t happen until the governor declares it, and that’s what I told everybody,” he said. “And, sure enough, here’s an example of why that is. So, now we got five people who are hellbent on running and none of them are going to get a chance to.”

Another of Dukes' would-be challengers is Gabriel Nila, who ran against Dukes as a Republican last fall. He says campaigning was kind of bizarre because he was basically running against another election – a situation he had to explain to voters over and over again while campaigning, he says. 

“We had to remind them that she had stated, and she had posted, and she had told everybody publicly that she had stepped down,” Nila said. “So, we were reminding people that, if you voted for her, it would lead potentially to a special election where we would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in order for this to happen.”

But Nila says that wasn’t convincing to a lot of people.

To be fair, this is a reliable Democratic seat. Electing someone like Nila or Ludlow is a long shot. Dukes won with 70 percent of the vote, even though she didn’t campaign and was embroiled in an alleged ethics scandal.

And, even though Dukes says it was an indication that voters wanted her to stay, others aren’t so sure.

Democrat Sheryl Cole, a former Austin City Council member, who planned on running for the seat once Dukes stepped down, stopped short of criticizing Dukes on this. However, she says many voters went to the polls expecting Dukes to step down.

“I think that was clearly publicized in the media, her statement that she was going to resign,” she said during a press conference this week in East Austin.

Both Ludlow and Nila say many voters in District 46 weren’t voting for Dukes, but instead voted straight ticket.

According to Travis County election records, a little more that 68 percent of the votes cast for Dukes were straight tickets.

Cole said she plans on running in 2018, or earlier, if Dukes is forced to resign.

The Texas Democratic Party declined to comment on this story.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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