Naked City

East Austin Endgame

The race nobody anticipated would turn as ugly as it did ended up pretty much the way everyone expected: Two-term incumbent Dawnna Dukes, the East Austin legislator heavily favored to win against first-time challenger Stella Roland, won another term by a convincing margin of 71-29%.

It was an anticlimactic end to an often acrimonious campaign between the incumbent and Roland, whom Dukes claimed had been recruited by West Austin developer Gary Bradley and longtime Capitol lobbyist Cal Varner (both of them SB 1704 supporters) to defeat the increasingly enviro-friendly legislator. But at the end of it, Dukes had no harsh words for Roland's supporters. "The victory speaks for itself," Dukes said on election night. "The opportunity to serve again was the goal."

Roland put up a good fight, scattering her yard signs around East Austin and distributing campaign literature which touted her record on several state boards and commissions and her lifelong residence in East Austin. But Dukes' campaign was ultimately more effective at convincing her East Austin constituents, a quarter of whom are impoverished, that she had done well by them in the Legislature, working for environmental justice, the much-ballyhooed Children's Health Insurance Program, and educational reforms including a bill enacted in the '99 legislative session that requires school districts to inform parents when their children are being taught by uncertified or underqualified teachers.

Despite her popularity, Dukes said she took nothing for granted. "It's how I hoped things would turn out," Dukes said at her headquarters Tuesday night, as soon as the polls suggested certain victory. "Expectations and desires are two different things. It's definitely what I desired."

Roland was the underdog from start to finish throughout her campaign, refusing to attend the candidates' forums and screening sessions that are virtually requisite for getting elected in Travis County. At the time, she called her campaign a "grassroots" effort, claiming the support of East Austin preachers, public school supporters, and impoverished East Austin residents who were tired, she said, of having a representative who hadn't "done anything for East Austin."

The win means that Dukes, who will run uncontested in the November general election, will serve two more years in the Travis County delegation. And Roland? On Tuesday night, she wasn't around the City Coliseum to give a comment; but chances are, she's caught the political campaign bug. Expect to see her again -- perhaps this time in a run for the Austin school board, where she is already a fixture thanks to her frequent presence at the public-input podium during board meetings.

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Dawnna Dukes, Stella Roland, District 50, Texas House of Representatives

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