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Candidates react to Dukes’ indictment

Thursday, January 19, 2017 by Jack Craver

Two weeks after reneging on her promise to resign from her seat, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who represents much of eastern Travis County, was indicted by a grand jury for 15 offenses related to her alleged misuse of public funds.

“Of course I am disappointed, but I expected that if I was sworn into office (on) January 10th that this indictment would follow. All I can say today is that I will be entering a plea of Not Guilty,” said Dukes, who represents House District 46, in a statement on her Facebook page.

Dukes and her attorney insisted that the 13 felony counts of tampering with public records and two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity are not enough to force the 11-term Democrat to give up her seat.

In justifying her decision to stay in office to the Austin American-Statesman, Dukes referenced her past work on behalf of children in the state foster system.

“I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted, because the children of Texas and Child Protective Services deserve to have my attention, they deserve to have my expertise, they deserve to have me to continue to fight for them,” she said.

Dukes’ announcement was yet another disappointment for the candidates who had announced plans to compete in the special election that would have been called if Dukes had fulfilled her promise to step down on Jan. 10.

A number of candidates say they will continue campaigning for Dukes’ seat, regardless of whether it can be contested in the coming months.

Former Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, a Democrat who last week said she was “all in” for the seat no matter when the election takes place, declined to comment on the indictment when reached by phone. She also again declined to call for Dukes to step down from her seat, restricting her remarks to her plan to compete for the seat as soon as it is available.

Chito Vela, another Democratic candidate, repeated his call for Dukes to step down, saying she had lost credibility by reneging on her promise to resign. A criminal defense attorney, Vela emphasized that she should be presumed innocent but said that Dukes, who was absent during much of the last legislative session, could not effectively represent her constituents while dealing with her legal issues.

If Dukes resigns, Gov. Greg Abbott would order a special election to take place within 45 days.

Nnamdi Orakwue, a political novice and tech entrepreneur who is running as a Democrat, sounded a similar tone. “She’s innocent until proven otherwise, but I do think it’s disappointing for the voters and the citizens of the district, because this distraction means we’re not getting our best representation,” he told the Austin Monitor by phone.

Greg Harrington, another Democrat who has voiced interest in the seat, said he plans to run if Dukes steps down and prompts a special election but is not sure whether he would challenge Dukes in a primary if she stays in office and runs for re-election next year.

“It would be a challenge for me to run against somebody who I’ve supported throughout the years,” said Harrington, a Dell engineer who has been active in a number of child advocacy efforts in the community and recently launched a campaign on Facebook urging people to occupy the state Child Support Office to draw attention to what he sees as unfair treatment of fathers in custody cases.

Gabriel Nila, the Republican candidate who lost in a landslide to Dukes in November, is also determined to continue campaigning for the seat. Unlike the Democratic candidates, Nila had no qualms about commenting on the legal situation.

“I’m very happy that they did the indictments based on the evidence they had,” he said in a phone interview.

The Central Texas Democratic Forum announced Wednesday that it would be hosting all four Democratic candidates at its monthly lunch next Tuesday.

“Whether there is a special election or primary election in March of 2018, Democrats will be watching the activity in HD46,” said the group’s emailed announcement. “Since it is unclear when the election will take place, we are giving all the candidates the opportunity to meet each other and talk to voters.”

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