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Dukes wins no endorsements at Democratic forum

Thursday, January 17, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) picked up no endorsements last night at a candidates’ forum hosted by seven of the county’s Democratic associations.


It was the surprising end to a marathon session that took more than four hours to complete. Dukes, who will face off in the Democratic primary against Brian Thompson, came out on the offensive, talking about her trip to Ardmore, OK as one of 51 Democrats who broke ranks with the House to protest Republican redistricting.


“We need to fight together and work together for the betterment of all Texas,” she said.


Thompson, in his turn at the microphone, spoke about District 46 being the most progressive district in the most progressive county in Texas. The representative in House District 46 should be someone who leads by principle, one who cannot be sold to the highest bidder in exchange for a key committee appointment, he said.


“The current representative is supporting (Republican House Speaker) Tom Craddick. I will not do that in District 46,” said Thompson, drawing applause from the audience.


Each candidate was asked a couple of questions. Thompson was smooth and direct in responding, while Dukes appeared aggressive, and even a bit defiant, in her answers to questions.


Asked directly by one group whether she would vote for Craddick for Speaker of the House in the upcoming session, Dukes said she would support the most qualified candidate. If a Democratic majority ruled the House, she would vote for a Democrat. Otherwise, she said, she would vote for the candidate that would help her serve her district.


A number of long-time Democrats in the audience considered this answer from Dukes to be dodge; they wanted a simple “no” or “yes” and preferably a “no.” Challenged with the thought that Dukes had supported Craddick as, she said, “the one who would help her deliver the most to District 46,” one bystander said that might have been true in the past but not the present. Craddick’s real power in the House is waning, goes the logic.


“What did he help her deliver to District 46 this last session?” he challenged.


The logic goes like this: Dukes may have decided to get the best for her district by supporting Craddick, but she also needs to know when it’s time to jump ship. Even those who recognize the benefits of working with Craddick also note that there came a time during the last session when Dukes needed to step out from the Craddick Ds.


More than one observer –although none who wanted to be named criticizing Dukes – noted that the issue is complicated by race. The criticism of Dukes is tempered, said another Democratic observer, because Dukes is African-American.


This is civil rights leader Ben Dukes’ daughter. That carries a lot of weight in the liberal white community. Among the entrenched Democrats – not the East Austin nouveau or the surprising appearance of young and upcoming progressive gays that appear to be rising in a number of organizations – the Dukes name carries much weight.


“That’s why you see the criticism a lot more tempered when it comes to Dawnna,” said another observer when asked whether it was possible to imagine District 46 represented by anyone who was not African-American. “She is black, and a lot of people do expect that district to be represented by a black, even if they don’t always agree with her.”


That might be one reason for the dichotomy between Dukes’ reception and the actual endorsements that eventually came out of the groups last night. While Dukes was not universally hailed, she clearly received more than her share of applause during last night’s forum. Thompson’s relative reception was polite but sometimes even tepid.


That made the final endorsements a bit of a surprise. Dukes won no endorsements. The more progressive groups – Capital Area Progressives and Texas Environmental Democrats – endorsed Thompson, along with the Southwest Austin Democrats, South Austin Democrats and Capital Area Asian-American Democrats. Capital City Young Democrats did not endorse. The Austin Tejano Democrats offered no endorsement.


It’s impossible to know how well – if at all – any of these groups represent the actual constituents in District 46. Asked about his knowledge of the Austin Tejano Democrats – which has high-profile members with an allegiance to Dukes – Thompson said he took the Hispanic vote in District 46 seriously and intended to pursue it diligently. It would be the Hispanic vote, Thompson said, that would make the difference in District 46.

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