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Candidates attend debate for election that isn’t happening

The politicos milled about in the audience, the moderator posed questions, and the candidates gave speeches about why they’re running for an election that isn’t happening, at least not yet.

The surreal scene took place Tuesday at the Central Texas Democratic Forum, where candidates hoping to replace indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, made their pitches to party insiders.

Amid a criminal investigation, Dukes, an Austin Democrat, announced in September that she would retire in January, at the end of her 11th two-year term, saying the effects of a 2013 car crash had left her unable to serve. Candidates immediately lined up to replace her in a special election.

But days before the Legislature reconvened, Dukes reversed course and was sworn in to a 12th term on Jan. 10. The would-be candidates, however, aren’t giving up.

The Democrats who attended Tuesday’s forum were former Austin City Council Member Sheryl Cole, attorney and Austin Planning Commission member Jose “Chito” Vela III, tech executive Nnamdi Orakwue and Greg Harrington, who works in sales at Dell.

Orakwue, a political novice, said the election of President Donald Trump prompted him to run.

“I was pretty unhappy about it and my instinct is to do something,” Orakwue said.

Vela and Cole both said they want the state to find new revenue streams to support public education.

“If we’re not talking about new revenue, then we’re not talking about improving education,” Vela said. “That’s the reality.”

Cole added: “We add as a state approximately 83,000 new children every year. … It’s going to have to take some new funding sources to address that.”

Harrington said he wants to push for the Legislature to meet more than every two years, which would require a state constitutional amendment.

“I am coming from a technology space. … Things change on a daily, sometimes minute basis,” he said. “We are one of the biggest states.”

Other potential candidates include Republican Gabriel Nila, Libertarian Kevin Ludlow and independent Adam Reposa.

Some of the candidates have vowed to run for House District 46 at the next opportunity, whether it’s a special election to replace Dukes if she steps down or is convicted, or the 2018 election in which Dukes may be running for reelection.

Forum moderator Katie Naranjo said she invited Dukes through three separate email addresses but did not get a response.

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