Despite dropped charges, four Democrats to challenge Rep. Dawnna Dukes


Despite her escaping legal trouble, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes will face four Democrats in 2018 primary.

Challengers entered the race when Dukes in 2016 announced she would leave office before reversing course.

Despite a criminal probe looming over her, Dukes won re-election with more than 70% of the vote in 2016.

Following Travis County prosecutors’ decision on Monday to drop all charges in the corruption case against her, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes is now out of legal trouble — but she’s not yet out of political trouble.

Four Democrats who had previously said they plan to run for Dukes’ heavily Democratic House District 46 confirmed Monday that they will still run next year despite the 12-term incumbent’s legal victory.

“I am happy that she has completed the judicial process to this point, and that speaks for itself,” former Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole said. “I entered this race because I believed that I was the best candidate and I still feel that way. Today has been a very good day for her, and I look forward to a very good primary where we discuss the issues that are important to House District 46.”

RELATED: Prosecutors drop all remaining charges against Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Cole, attorney Jose “Chito” Vela III, Manor school district Trustee Ana Cortez and Nnamdi Orakwue, who founded tech start-up Cocolevio, all said they will continue with their campaigns, which they launched after Dukes in September 2016 announced she would step down in January 2017.

After being re-elected in November with more than 70 percent of the vote, Dukes reneged on that promise and was sworn into a new two-year term.

Shaun Clarke, an attorney for Dukes, said Monday that he believes she will run for re-election in 2018.

“She could have avoided all this by just resigning and frankly facing the daunting reality of an indictment. She wavered last year,” he said. “Having fought so hard to vindicate herself, she’s going to want to continue to serve.”

All four of the challengers cited Dukes’ poor attendance in the last two legislative sessions as reasons they plan to run against her.

WATCH: Dawnna Dukes booked on corruption charges

“Although the criminal allegations against Rep. Dukes apparently could not be proven, it’s important to remember what is undisputed. Her absence at the legislature is, quite literally, a matter of written record,” Vela said in a statement. “We have been abandoned by Rep. Dukes, who did not show up to do the job she was elected to do.”

Dukes has said her frequent absences, which caused her to miss 84 percent of roll call votes in the 2015 session and more than half of them in 2017, are due to the lingering effects of a 2013 car crash.

Her district includes parts of East Austin, North Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Republican candidate Gabriel Nila did not immediately respond to a request Monday afternoon for comment.

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