Vela to Waffling Dukes: Go Now

Updated: Dukes confirms she will be on the floor today

House hopeful Chito Vela (l) calls on embattled Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Pflugerville, to step down as she promised. (Dukes photo by John Anderson)

As the old song goes, how can we miss you if you won't go away? Workers' rights advocate and attorney Chito Vela has responded to reports that Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Pflugerville, won't be quitting her seat, and is requesting that she stand down Tuesday as promised.

As with everybody else, Vela had been expecting Dukes to formally announce her retirement tomorrow, the first day of the 85th Legislature. Now it looks like the representative for House District 46 (covering East Austin, Pflugerville, and Manor) is staying put, much to everyone's surprise.

The longstanding state rep anounced in September that, after winning the November election, she would resign her seat Jan. 10. Why run and then resign? Dukes has said that medical issues are to blame; she was in an auto wreck in 2013. However, there is mounting speculation that the resignation stems from the ongoing investigation into abuse of office allegations. Dukes’ failure to withdraw before the November election annoyed many Democrats, as well as her Republican challenger, Gabriel Nila, because it would trigger a special election when she did finally quit.

Staying put until Jan. 10 did have the widely reported perk for Dukes that it would add another legislative session to her record, and in turn another $3,000 per year to her pension. However, the delay means HD 46 would go without representation for much of the session’s first half. (Vela had already called on Dukes to resign in November over those exact concerns).

However, Dukes has apparently reversed course. On Saturday, the Austin American-Statesman reported that District Attorney Margaret Moore told them Dukes now plans to remain in her seat through the session. That's big news to her constituents, to the state and local party, to the rest of the delegation – as well as the list of candidates signed up to replace her.

That list includes former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Vela, who now have to work out whether to trust Dukes' earlier announcement or this latest secondhand update from Moore. Vela issued a statement that "her constituents took Rep. Dukes at her word and the campaign to fill her seat has begun. … This ambiguity hurts the people she represents, who are counting on their elected officials to fight Trump and the radical Republican agenda." Vela has announced plans to move forward with his campaign kickoff this Thursday, Jan. 12, at Tres Amigos Restaurant (7535 Hwy. 290 E.).

Why bother if Dukes is staying? Because no one knows for certain what is happening. Dukes’ voice was eerily absent from any stories written by daily press outlets over the weekend. Reached by the Chronicle for comment on Monday, she replied that she is "pretty swamped at the moment" and said she’d respond "based on certain items in the queue."

Those items may include bringing her fellow Dems up to speed, who all remain in the dark. Travis County Democratic Party Executive Director Carisa Lopez said, "We're just waiting and seeing." That was echoed at the state level by Texas Democratic Party spokesman Manny Garcia, who said, "We have not received any communication from [Dukes] or her office."

However, everything could change tomorrow when the session begins. Dukes could still step down, and Democratic sources state that Moore is scheduled to meet with Texas Rangers this week regarding Dukes’ case. If Dukes’ resignation was agreed upon by previous Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg as a way to avoid prosecution, that deal could now be off the table.

Vela could well get his special election yet.

UPDATE: Jan. 10, 11:30am Dukes has confirmed to the Texas Tribune that, yes, she will be on the House floor today, and, yes, she plans to serve again this session.

It's worth noting that Dukes' new seat on the floor is exactly by the House press desk. Expect a flurry of questions when she does arrive.

Dukes' reversal has triggered another announcement, with Cole issuing a statement that she will hold a press conference about HD 46 this afternoon at 4pm at Sam's BBQ (2000 E. 12th). In the terse press statement, Cole's campaign wrote that "Dukes has made few public appearances or statements, other than to confirm to the media that she will no longer be honoring her pledge."

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85th Legislature, Dawnna Dukes, Chito Vela, House District 46, Travis County Democratic Party, TCDP

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