Travis County Democrats got into a heated debate Wednesday evening over requests by some to push for the resignation of embattled state Rep. Dawnna Dukes.
Several party members who serve in Dukes’ 46th district outlined concerns at the party’s monthly executive committee meeting, arguing the lawmaker is unfit to continue in her elected capacity because she ignores messages, was absent for about two-thirds of committee hearings at the recent legislative session and was the only House member who didn’t vote on the state budget.
Yet local Democratic Party Chairman Vincent Harding said it’s against the party’s standards to discard an elected official, and he rejected a motion that would have let party leaders vote on whether to continue to support Dukes, who also faces 13 felony counts in a corruption case in state District Court.
“I’m asking you to trust me as chair, … it would do irreparable harm to the party,” Harding said, according to a recording obtained by the American-Statesman of the meeting at Scholz Garten.
An unidentified precinct chair fired back at Harding, “Inaction and absence have damaged this party’s reputation!”
Another hollered, “What would it take?”
The hope among Dukes’ detractors is that stripping her of party support would encourage her to resign and not seek re-election. Dukes, who is in her 11th term, hasn’t declared publicly if she intends to run in the March primary.
Daniel Segura-Kelly told the Statesman he is among 16 precinct chairs in the 46th district who are in favor of seeking Dukes’ resignation. Three others want her to stay. Three haven’t expressed their opinion.
He said the issue will be raised once more on June 28 when — unlike at Wednesday’s meeting — a parliamentarian will be in attendance to determine the fairness of Harding’s ruling.
Dukes, who wasn’t at the meeting, didn’t respond to a message for comment Thursday.
Meantime, another precinct chair, Roy Woody, told the newspaper a forum will take place sometime this month to hear from residents in Dukes’ district about her representation of them.
Harding, in a conversation with the Statesman, mentioned repeatedly he wasn’t defending Dukes at the meeting, but that he wanted to avoid setting a precedent by having the party ask an elected official to resign. He noted that Democrats stood by former District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in 2013.
Harding also pointed out Dukes’ race, African-American, as reason to not have her ousted, presumably because it could incite a backlash from others.
“I’ll just go out there and say it,” Harding, who also is African-American, told party members. “I do not think it would be wise for the Democratic Party to ask an elected African-American official to resign. Not one current African-American elected official has called for (her to resign). Not one former African-American elected official has called for her to resign.”
As the debate came to a close after 10 to 15 minutes, sergeant-at-arms Donna Beth McCormick intervened and admonished Dukes’ detractors to “get your act together” and consider filing an ethics complaint against her.
“We have to see what’s going to happen at the special (legislative) session, if she shows up, and if she’s going to retire,” McCormick said.