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Candidates commit to challenging Dukes

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 by Jack Craver

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes was sworn in to her 12th term of office to represent much of Eastern Travis County on Tuesday, despite an announcement from Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore that her office plans to present evidence to a grand jury that the veteran Democrat abused her office.

Dukes has been dogged by ethics allegations for much of the past year that accused her of paying legislative staff with state funds to perform personal errands for her.

Dukes promised in September – after it was too late to be taken off the general election ballot – that she would step down from her position on the first day of the legislative session, which would allow Gov. Greg Abbott to set a special election to fill the seat. She was easily re-elected in the overwhelmingly Democratic district in November, facing only token opposition from a Republican and a Green Party candidate.

The candidates who were hoping to compete in the special election to replace Dukes have expressed varying levels of disappointment with her decision to remain in office. All of them, however, have said that they plan to continue their campaigns, even if the next election for the office does not take place until next year.

Chito Vela, a Democrat who had announced plans to run in the race, called on Dukes to resign in a statement Saturday, citing her previous claim that her health was preventing her from doing the job.

Nnamdi Orakwue, also a Democrat, called Dukes’ decision “appalling” in a Facebook post Saturday and on Tuesday pledged that he was “in this race for the long haul.”

Also on Tuesday, another announced Democratic candidate, former Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, stopped short of calling on Dukes to resign but said that that was clearly what “the community” was asking of the longtime legislator.

Speaking to assembled media and flanked by supporters at Sam’s BBQ on East 12th Street, Cole opened by referencing what she said was a common saying in the black community: “Got to represent.”

“And when we say that,” she continued, “we hope that the people who are representing us recognize that it is not about them, it is about us.”

Cole’s “all in” whether there is a special election or not, she said, before touting what she said was a strong record of fighting for affordable housing and public education. But the biggest reason she stands apart “from any other candidate,” she added, is that she has “shepherded three African-American boys through the public school system.”

“I want people to know that I’m going to fight for these issues not just because it’s business, but because it’s personal,” Cole said.

Also appearing at Sam’s was Adam Reposa, the DWI defense attorney who was endorsed by the Green Party to run in the anticipated special election. Reposa told the Austin Monitor that he was not sure whether he will be the Green candidate in 2018. He may instead run as an independent. Dukes’ decision to remain in office, he said, was emblematic of the self-interested, establishment politics he is running against.

Gabriel Nila, the Republican candidate who lost to Dukes in November and was planning to run in the special election, said that “the people of Eastern Travis County have just been slapped in the face and lied to once again” by Dukes’ decision not to step down. He added, “We will continue to demand that Dukes step down so the people can vote for a true voice of the community (who) will fight for all members of district.”

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