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Cole, Deshotel likely candidates for Dukes’ seat

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 by Jo Clifton

On Monday morning, as soon as Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes shared her plans to retire in January, the buzz began about who would run for her District 46 seat.

The Quorum Report carried the news of Dukes’ plan to retire on Jan. 10, the beginning of the next legislative session. She told the Quorum Report that she was retiring for medical reasons related to a 2013 car accident.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Monday that the Texas Rangers had delivered a report on Dukes to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office last week. There has been speculation that Dukes’ decision to announce her retirement now is connected to that investigation.

Political consultant Bill Miller, speaking on Dukes’ behalf, told the Austin Monitor that his client’s decision was unrelated to the investigation by the District Attorney’s Office into her use of her legislative staff to work on an African-American community heritage festival. Miller said Dukes made the decision after visiting with her doctors last week.

Among the politically connected, two names surfaced quickly to take the seat Dukes has held since 1995: former Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and political consultant W. Joe Deshotel, the son of state Rep. Joe Deshotel of Port Arthur.

Shortly after Cole released a statement expressing her interest in the seat, former City Council Member Mike Martinez, who served with Cole on Council, released a statement thanking his supporters for urging him to run but stating that he would support Cole.

Martinez ran against Cole and Steve Adler for mayor in 2014. Adler won a subsequent runoff to become mayor. Cole is also a member of the board of directors of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which owns the Austin Monitor.

Another person named as a possible candidate was James Nortey. Nortey noted that he was once an intern in Cole’s office and said he thought she would make an excellent state representative.

Annie’s List, a progressive political action committee that focuses on women’s issues, released a statement thanking Dukes for her service. In that statement, Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of the organization, said, “We support the need for a leader with a proven track record to quickly join Democratic colleagues in holding the line for quality public education for our kids, women’s health, earned equal pay and more.”

She added, “It’s clearly very early in the process, but we are encouraged by the calls to continue support for a qualified woman in this seat. Although Texas is one of America’s largest and most diverse states and even though men comprise 49% of the population, they hold 81% of the lawmaking power in the legislature (146 of 181 seats). We will work to ensure the majority of residents in house district 46 don’t lose representation from this seat.”

Deshotel posted a somewhat confusing statement on Facebook asking his friends to voice their opinions about him running for the seat. He told the Monitor on Monday afternoon that he didn’t want to say that he was officially running, but that he didn’t want too much time to pass before notifying any supporters of his interest in case they might commit to another candidate.

Deshotel was a consultant on former Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s 2012 campaign and was also involved in helping defeat Proposition 1, the Uber and Lyft proposition on the May ballot. He is currently the spokesman for Ride Austin.

Cole clearly has much greater name recognition than Deshotel after serving three terms on Council, and she has made friends who could assist her in the race. Deshotel has also made friends, but his name is not yet well-known.

Vincent Harding, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, was also mentioned as a possible candidate. He told the Monitor that he is busy getting ready for the November election, a full-time job. He added, “I’m focused on November. … After Nov. 8, it’s something I’ll have to talk to my wife about and pray about.”

Harding released the following statement about Dukes’ announcement: “I pray for the quickest recovery of Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ health and wish her the best in all her future endeavors. … She fought for many Democratic principles and causes as she served her constituency for decades and I want to thank her for her service.”

Dukes’ name will remain on the Nov. 8 ballot this November. Harding said, “It is of the utmost importance that the voters of House District 46 have their voices heard in the upcoming legislative session, and it is my goal and responsibility to ensure a Democrat maintains control of this seat.”

If Dukes had announced her intention to retire before Sept. 1, the Democratic party could have chosen another candidate to be on the November ballot. That’s not an option now, so those running will have to wait. Assuming that Dukes is elected despite her announced decision to retire, the governor will call a special election.

Harding concluded, “I encourage everyone to vote the Straight Democratic Ticket on Nov. 8.” If Dukes’ Republican opponent, Gabriel Nila, were to win, then Dukes’ retirement date would not change. However, District 46 is considered a reliably Democratic seat.

Miller told the Monitor that his client did not have a favorite candidate in the race, but he predicted that it would be a crowded field. Although the election could be called for as early as Feb. 7, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott will not be under any pressure from his own party to call an election for a reliably Democratic seat.

This story has been corrected. Sheryl Cole served three, not two, terms on City Council. Photo by Ed Schipul made available through a Creative Commons license.

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