Still No Charges for Dawnna Dukes

Retiring legislator reportedly in talks with Travis County D.A.

Dawnna Dukes (Photo by John Anderson)

No news may be good news for state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Pflugerville, as there is still no sign of the long and widely awaited abuse-of-office charges for the retiring legislator.

Dukes previously announced that she would be stepping down on Jan. 10, 2017, the first day of the next legislative session, due to injuries suffered in a 2013 car wreck. She made her decision too late to be removed from the November ballot, and so her departure will trigger a special election. That announcement came days after the Texas Rangers handed in a report to Travis County prosecutors on allegations that she used her state office staff effectively as home help and gave them pay raises in contravention of state rules.

Yet there are still no signs of any charges. On Sept. 30, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg (herself no stranger to scandal) has delayed taking the Rangers' findings to a grand jury. Instead, her office is currently in talks with Dukes and potentially discussing a deal.

Beyond her initial retirement statement, Dukes herself has seemingly gone underground. That's a change from earlier in the year, when she was notably pugnacious about and to critics on Facebook. She was also notably the only member of the Travis County House caucus (other than fellow retiree Elliott Naishtat) not speaking at the recent Texas Tribune Festival.

Many Democrats were frustrated that Dukes filed at all this session, and it wasn't just because of any pending charges. She has faced multiple fines from the Texas Ethics Commission since 2008 for issues with her campaign finance reports (particularly embarrassing for a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee). On Jan. 15 of this year, she filed her semi-annual reports for the first half of 2015 – a whole six months late.

The car accident amplified concerns about her ability to do the job. She was notably absent for most of last session, and, with no obvious signs that her health was improving, even before her recent announcement the big question was whether she could be effective or even present in 2017.

This is all a prelude to the seemingly inevitable special election, with former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole emerging as the early front runner. The other names touted as potential opponents seem to be evaporating, with the biggest winnowing coming with Cole's fellow former Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mar­tinez taking his name out of contention by backing her candidacy. Cue an editorial from Statesman editor Alberta Phillips, lauding Martinez for preventing a "divisive fight." However, behind the scenes, some Dems are still looking for a viable challenger to prevent a House seat simply being handed to Cole. Their argument is that, after 22 years of Dukes, Travis County voters deserve better than a coronation.

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Dawnna Dukes, Elliott Naishtat, Travis County District Attorney's Office, Texas Rangers, abuse of office, Legislature, November 2016 Election

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