In 2018 Election, It's Dawnna Dukes vs. the Field

The beleaguered HD 46 rep keeps on keepin' on

Dawnna Dukes enters Sunday's candidate forum. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Seven months ago, Dawnna Dukes was all but a sure thing to stand down as a state representative. Now, even though she faces multiple state charges for abuse of office, the besieged Democrat from Pflugerville has announced that in 2018 she will once again run for office. On Sunday she began her re-election campaign by dropping by a House District 46 candidate forum alongside the individuals who would like to take her seat.

The event, held at Austin Community College's Eastview Campus, was pitched as a candidate forum organized by Democratic precinct chairs from HD 46. But attendees were first subjected to a 90-minute panel discussion and/or recruiting session from a series of local progressive groups, including the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Austin Neighborhoods Council, before the announced main event.

The crowd had already begun to thin when the six potential candidates finally took the stage, beginning with former Workers Defense Project board chair Jose "Chito" Vela, who began campaigning against Dukes when the latter originally announced her plans for resignation. Vela has been the most active (and vocal) of Dukes' challengers, and on Sunday was joined by Austin's former Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole; Manor ISD Trustee Ana Cortez; Philip Emiabata, who made an unsuccessful 2015 run for Pfluger­ville City Council; tech start-up entrepreneur Nnamdi Orakwue; and Dukes herself.

The incumbent's attendance had been in question leading up to Sunday, as she had refused to respond to – or even sign for – an invitation that event organizers sent by certified mail. She was often combative with her answers: first savaging Republicans for whitewashing her legacy, then going after her fellow Democrats. Referring to the medical issues she's endured in the wake of her 2013 car wreck, Dukes said, "Certain individuals have taken it as an opportunity to criticize when we claim to be the more empathetic and family-oriented party than the Repub­lic­ans." She then told a heckler in the audience to shut up, and got into a shouting match with Precinct 126 Chair Daniel Segura-Kelly when he challenged her on her erratic attendance record during the last session. Her unannounced presence overshadowed what little discussion of substance came from the disjointed session.

Dukes' primary cause for running to hold her House seat is that "seniority is where the power lies" – and that's been part of why Democrats have been so cautious for several election cycles of supporting primary challengers. After all, Dukes' seniority ensures that she will hold a seat on the all-important House Committee on Appropriations, which manages state spending. Her place on that committee has caused Democrats to turn a blind eye to her infamous mid-session jaunts to Las Vegas and Paris (France, not Texas) in the mid-2000s, and to go easy on her for her prolonged absences during the 2015 session. She kept up her poor attendance throughout the recent session, then showed up two hours late for the most recent court hearing in her abuse of office case. (She also arrived at Sunday's event more than an hour after proceedings had gotten underway. Organizers hurried to find an available chair.) She now faces a lawsuit for an overdue fine levied by the Texas Ethics Commission, which she incurred when she failed to file campaign finance forms on time last year. That's the latest in over a decade of fines and failures relating to campaign finance, starting in 2007 when she had to go back and re-file eight years of missed reports.

Segura-Kelly, an outspoken critic of Dukes ("Vincent Harding's Hill," June 9), said he is most concerned about her ability to serve her constituents. Noting that some of her statements, such as her untrue claim that she co-authored the Sandra Bland Act, are not backed by facts, he said, "What we learned ... is that she takes no responsibility and has no shame over her behavior."

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Dawnna Dukes, 85th Lege, Chito Vela, Sheryl Cole, Ana Cortez, Philip Emiabata, Nnamdi Orakwue, Daniel Segura-Kelly

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