HD 46: Ready for the Main Event
High stakes in Dukes' race
What a year it's been for state Rep. Dawnna Dukes. The tenured incumbent endured a string of absences from the Capitol and became embroiled in a corruption case, facing 13 felonies and two misdemeanors for tampering with a governmental record and abuse of public office. Travis County prosecutors dropped all charges in 2017 based on vague enforcement laws, freeing Dukes to run again for her district spot, which flows from Pflugerville out to Manor and then back through East and Central Austin. Unwilling to relinquish her 12-term seat even after the high-profile controversy, Dukes now faces a record number of primary challengers, two of whom already had a head start months ago when it looked as if the incumbent was out before last summer's special election: former City Council Member Sheryl Cole and Jose "Chito" Vela, who served as the Workers Defense Project's board chair and as a city Planning Commissioner until he filed to run for office.
Vela is currently an immigrant criminal defense attorney; he previously served as general counsel to former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. He advocates strongly for Medicaid expansion and tighter rules when it comes to letting legislators lobby to win government contracts from the cities, school districts, and counties they represent to ensure conflicts of interest don't arise – a not so subtle jab at Dukes' consulting firm's questionable contracts with AISD. He proposes the legalization and taxation of marijuana (to fund education) and the reduction of drug possession to a misdemeanor. A believer in multimodal transportation, he would support raising a "modest" local gas tax (by public vote) dedicated to urban transportation needs and would move to add more Cap Metro board members, including someone who uses the system as their main means of transport.
Cole, meanwhile, got her start on the PTA and worked her way up to mayor pro tem, after first getting elected to City Council in 2006. She's an accountant and attorney, and touts her push to get an affordable housing package on the ballot in 2013; leading the re-envisioning of Waller Creek; and her early support for marriage equality with a Council resolution that made Austin the first city in the state to support same-sex marriage. On the campaign trail, she's promising to fight for affordability, living wages, and Medicaid expansion. Cole says she'll take a proactive approach to defending LGBTQ and civil rights and, like Vela, supports marijuana legalization, with tax revenue flowing toward education, health care, and infrastructure.
The two front-runners see competition from Ana Cortez, a Manor ISD trustee, member of the Mexican American School Boards Association, and head of a health care consultant business; Casey L. McKinney, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former oil and gas lobbyist; and Warren Baker, a small-business owner.