Democrat kicks off campaign for already filled HD46 seat

Lisa Dreher

Austin immigration attorney Jose “Chito” Vela III kicked off his campaign for House District 46 on Thursday evening, even though Rep. Dawnna Dukes was present when the legislative session was gaveled in.

“East Austin … is deeply, deeply Democrat,” Vela said. “They want a strong progressive fighter that will advocate for the beliefs and the values that the district holds dear.”

Family and community members gathered in Tres Amigos Restaurant & Cantina for Vela’s campaign kickoff Thursday evening.

Dukes announced in September she would step down for medical reasons on opening day, but on Monday she confirmed with the Texas Tribune in an email she would stay for her 12th term. Texas Rangers will also ask a grand jury to indict Dukes over unethical behavior next Tuesday.

“I will be entering a plea of not guilty if something were to come forth,” Dukes told KXAN.

Dukes has been investigated by Texas Rangers after her staff said she made them work full-time for one of her nonprofit organizations. Dukes is also being charged with tampering with public records, according to District Attorney Margaret Moore.

The indictment has caused uncertainty over how long she will stay in office, and those campaigning for her seat in case of a special election are asking her to resign as she had promised.

A special election must be officially called by Gov. Greg Abbott if Dukes officially resigns.

Vela told The Daily Texan it would be hard for the district, which includes East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville, to trust Dukes after recent events.

“It’s going to be very difficult for her to represent her district,” Vela said. “I wish she would have done what she said what she was going to do, but I just don’t see how she can effectively represent the people of House District 46 given all the problems surrounding her.”

Vela and Democrat Sheryl Cole have revved up their campaigns for HD46, and Vela said he will advocate for expanded Medicaid, local over state control and transportation improvements.

Vela told The Daily Texan the district wants an even more progressive leader than his Democratic opponent.

“I have no disrespect for [Cole] whatsoever,” Vela said. “I’m an advocate … I’m not afraid to speak my voice. That to me, that attitude, that tenor, that tone is a better fit for the people of the district than any other candidates.”