State Rep. Dawnna Dukes retires amid health concerns, investigation

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (Courtesy: Texas Houses of Representatives)
Rep. Dawnna Dukes (Courtesy: Texas Houses of Representatives)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Twenty-two-year veteran lawmaker for east Austin, Rep. Dawnna Dukes, announced she will step down because of health problems. But her resignation won’t take effect until after next month’s election. It comes as the Texas Rangers just finished investigating whether she used public resources for private purposes.

Rep. Dukes represents Austin, Pflugerville and Manor and these past two years have been a roller coaster.

In 2013, she was rear-ended by a semi truck driving on Interstate 35. Injuries she suffered that day plague her still.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make. However, in light of my ongoing health issues and concerns, I find that I can no longer provide the active, effective leadership that is needed to continue my sworn duties.  I must take the time to focus all of my energy to heal and continue to provide for my young daughter and extended family,” Dukes said in a statement.

She was basically absent from the 2015 legislative session, saying health issues from the accident caused her to miss days at work.

But after that, the Texas Rangers began investigating her, after her taxpayer-funded staff reported they ran private errands for her and worked on a local charity, unrelated to her office. The Department of Public Safety tells KXAN the Rangers just submitted their investigation report to the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.

“We received the investigative report and underlying materials from the Rangers last week.  We are reviewing those materials now,” wrote Gregg Cox in an email to KXAN. Cox is in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, a special prosecution division designed to bring cases against public officials.

Dukes says she’ll officially resign in January, but she’s still on the ballot in November. If she wins, that means an emergency election. The Governor’s office tells me they have not yet received her letter of resignation. After they receive it, they have 35 to 50 days to call an emergency election.

The Travis County Elections Office estimates the cost for a District 46 Representative special election would be close to $200,000. The last special election, the January 2014 runoff for Rep District 50, cost just over $140,000.

Dukes opponent says she should have stepped down sooner.

“That’s the most important thing right now that she takes care of herself and takes care of her daughter. But when it comes to taking care of the legislative issues, she should have taken care of that a long time ago,” said junior high educator Gabriel Nila, who pledges to run again in January if defeated in November. He tells KXAN for too long, Rep. Dukes and the Democratic Party has been too focused on east Austin and has left Manor and Pflugerville unrepresented in the Texas capitol.

Democrats are already expressing interest in running against him in January.

Former Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole says she’s seriously considering running for the open seat in January.

“This morning I have received an incredible outpouring of support and encouragement from community leaders and my family. It is with their support that I am seriously considering running to House District 46,” she said in a statement.

Joe Deshotel says he’ll likely run for the seat as well. A former Democratic Party communications director, he now works for the ride share non-profit Ride Austin. He is the son of Beaumont lawmaker Rep. Joe Deshotel, Sr.

The Travis County Democratic Party is still urging voters to vote straight ticket even though Rep. Dukes says she will not serve if elected.

“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,” stated Chair Harding. “I encourage everyone to vote the Straight Democratic Ticket on November 8.”

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