Voters in parts of Central Austin, East Austin and Pflugerville are voting for a representative for Texas House District 46 right now. And, even though there are technically two people on the ballot, only one candidate is actually planning to serve in that office.
Gabriel Nila, the Republican running for the seat, is a middle school science teacher in Austin. Like any other candidate, he has some issues he really cares about. Education, criminal justice, gentrification and the economy are all things he’s talking to voters about as he asks them to vote for him over Democratic incumbent Rep. Dawnna Dukes.
But there’s a part of his pitch to voters that stands out.
“We are also reminding people that if you choose to elect Dawnna Dukes for office – that is your choice – but the reality of the situation is that, come January 10, she has already said that she will get sworn-in and retire subsequently, which means we will not have a representative in that district,” Nila said.
That’s right, the long-serving incumbent in that seat doesn’t plan to actually be the district’s representative, if she wins.
Dukes has held that seat for 11 terms. However, earlier this year she announced she’s resigning in January, citing health issues.
The announcement came amid news that the Travis County District Attorney's office is conducting a criminal investigation over allegations she misused staff and taxpayer funds. So, Dukes isn’t exactly campaigning.
“Not a problem,” Nila said. “I will go ahead and devote more time to talk to people about why I am running and why I believe that what I am trying to fight for at the Capitol and in the community is a lot better than anybody else has ever done at all.”
However, this district is dependably Democratic and, even though Dukes says she won’t be representing the district even if she wins this election, there’s a good chance she’ll win anyway. Nila argues that’s not good for the people living in that district.
“We will not have any representation,” he said. “Any bills that are going to negatively affect the community, we can’t fight.”
If Dukes wins, Gov. Greg Abbott can appoint someone or call for a special election. The latter is more likely.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says there’s a simple process for what happens next. But it takes time and money.
“I think we are looking at later in February or perhaps in March,” DeBeauvoir said.
That’s well after the legislative session starts, which means the district will not be represented while laws are made and budgets are brokered.
DeBeauvoir says a special election could cost roughly $200,000.
The Travis County Democratic Party and representatives for Dukes were asked to weigh in on all of this, but they didn’t make anyone available.
There are also some third party candidates on the ballot. Kevin Ludlow, a libertarian, and Adam Michael Greeley with the Green Party also running for the seat.
This post was updated to include mentions of the third party candidates also appearing on the ballot for the Texas House District 46 race.