Rep. Dawnna Dukes won’t retire House seat, Statesman reports

Lisa Dreher

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes said she will return to the Legislature next week despite previously announced plans to retire, the Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday.

A special election to fill the vacancy cannot be called by Gov. Greg Abbott until Dukes officially resigns by sending Abbott a resignation letter, which he never received.

Dukes announced in September she would step down after serving for two decades, citing health issues as a result of a 2013 car crash, but would officially step down Jan. 10 when the Legislature reconvenes. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday that Dukes plans to stay for her 12th term.

Dukes, whose House District 46 serves parts of East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville, remained on the ballot and was re-elected to the heavily Democratic seat in November despite plans to step down. According to the Texas Tribune, delayed retirement means $3,220 per year added to her state pension.

According to the Statesman, Dukes declined to comment following the announcement.

Dukes has been investigated by Texas Rangers and the Statesman in the previous year over questionable spending and abuse of power. Moore will meet with Texas Rangers on Tuesday to decide whether to seek an indictment against Dukes and face a grand jury.

Texas Rangers joined an investigation in April looking into Dukes’s staff complaining she had them work full-time for a nonprofit and allowing a staff member to live at her Pflugerville home rent-free. They delivered their investigative report in October.

According to the Statesman, Dukes was also absent for most of the 2015 legislative session, citing the same medical reasons.

Republican Gabriel Nila planned to run for HD 46 in the special election and told The Daily Texan on Saturday he anticipated Dukes’s decision to keep her seat.

“I’m disappointed at the fact that she’s not stepping down, but I’m also not surprised that she’s changing course,” Nila said.

“I’m disappointed at the fact that she’s not stepping down, but I’m also not surprised that she’s changing course,” Nila said.

Nila, who ran against Dukes and lost in 2016, said he is running to represent those undocumented who cannot vote.

“We were looking at representing everyone as opposed to just a select few, and Dawnna was just not doing that,” Nila said. “Regardless of whether she stays or not, we are going to pursue our interest in helping the community.”

Austin attorney Jose “Chito” Vela III said in a statement that he will keep campaigning.

“She needs to step down so the election to fill her seat occurs as quickly as possible,” Vela said. “Regardless, my campaign will continue."

Democrat Sheryl Cole, former Austin City Council mayor pro tem and 2014 mayoral candidate, announced in December she also planned to run for the seat in the case of a special election.