Rep. Dawnna Dukes says lingering injuries explain absence from capitol

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes says serious, lingering injuries have forced her to miss virtually every vote taken in the Texas House this session with the exception of the the most important bill: the budget.

“I have severe injuries,” the Dukes told the Statesman on Tuesday. “I am not functional.”

Members of the Texas House have noted recently that the Austin Democrat has not been seen under the Capitol’s dome in weeks.

Some members could only recall her arguing from the chamber’s front microphone during the early-session debate over the House rules — when she tried to persuade the members that smoking cigarettes should be permitted in Capitol offices. She also was seen earlier this month during an appearance by R&B recording artist John Legend, who came to Texas to promote his Free America campaign to reduce the country’s incarceration rate.

A car crash on Aug. 1, 2013 left Dukes with spinal injuries, she said, and she now is seeing six physicians and considering a trip to visit with experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She added that she sustained a “collapsed disk” in her neck on Feb. 27.

“I am in extreme pain, on heavy medication and having failure of some of my internal organs,” she said.

Dukes, who was first elected to the House in 1996, declined to give further specifics due to a pending lawsuit.

Dukes also has missed the vast majority of meetings of the committees on which she serves.

She has continued to collect the $190 per diem allowance given to members and senators each day of the legislative session and said she has continued to work for her constituents in House District 46, which includes portions of East Austin and northeast Travis County. Dukes said she is “still in command,” even if she cannot go to the Capitol.

“I am texting, emailing my staff every single day,” she said. “I am not on vacation. I am not playing around.”

Dukes has leaned on fellow members to help her in her absence. Some members have cast floor votes for her, and other have tried to advance her legislative agenda.

“I have been kind of getting help and giving directives from home,” she said. “All of my bills have been distributed to various House members.”

On Monday, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, tried to take a Dukes’ House Bill 808, which would create a task force to study cases of rape on college and university campuses, and attach it to another bill as an amendment. Her effort failed.

On Tuesday, Republican political consultant Derek Ryan questioned Dukes’ whereabouts on Twitter. Ryan, who tracks each members’ votes, said he was going through the House journals and noticed that “there were an awful lot of absences.”

“I was just genuinely curious,” he said, adding that he was not seeking a Republican challenger to run against the long-serving Democrat.

Still, Dukes reacted with frustration.

“I have no intention to become a paraplegic or quadriplegic to please a Republican operative who put something out on my attendance when I am dealing with a major injury,” she told the Statesman.

In response to Ryan’s tweet and questions from the Statesman, Dukes took to social media herself to speak directly to her constituents. In a 563-word posting on Facebook, Dukes discussed her condition and asked for prayers and understanding.

She wrote: “I beg your patience and wish for you to know that I have always and will continue to be a fighter for you and me; even during this very personal and painful battle.”

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