Indicted and often absent, Rep. Dawnna Dukes keeps committee seat


State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, kept her spot on House Appropriations despite being under indictment.

Dukes used a “seniority pick” to place herself on the committee and has no leadership posts.

Central Texas has a relatively green delegation in the Texas House.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes has maintained her seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, despite facing felony corruption charges and being absent from the House for nine of 14 days.

But that doesn’t mean Dukes is in the good graces of House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. As the 12th longest serving member of the Legislature, Dukes, an Austin Democrat first elected in 1994, was able to place herself on the budget-writing committee through a provision of the House rules giving prerogative to senior members.

Dukes’ only other assignment is to serve on the International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. She was not named chairwoman or vice-chairwoman of any committee.

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Last session, she was the vice chairwoman of three panels: an Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, the Select Committee on Emerging Trends in Texas Law Enforcement and the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.

Dukes is the longest-tenured representative without a leadership post on a committee aside from Midland Republican Tom Craddick, the former House speaker who was deposed by Straus in 2009.

After reneging on a promise to step down, Dukes last month cited her seat on Appropriations and her commitment to fixing the scandal-plagued Child Protective Services as reasons she decided to continue serving.

A week later, a Travis County grand jury indicted Dukes on two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity and 13 felony counts of tampering with public records. Dukes has said she is innocent and will fight the charges in court.

Dukes attended only five of the first 14 days that the House has met this year, according to the House journal. In the 2015 legislative session, Dukes missed 84 percent of House votes and 44 of 50 committee meetings, an American-Statesman investigation found.

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Dukes in 2015 cited medical issues stemming from a 2013 car crash as the reason for her absences, which was also the reason she gave when announcing in September that she would step down. On the first day of the 2017 Legislature, however, she told reporters her health had improved and her doctor had said she was fit to serve.

Dukes did not respond to a request for comment.

Straus’ hotly anticipated assignments for the House’s 40 committees include eight first-time chairs and 11 chairs leading new committees.

The selections, however, will likely do little to shake up the political calculus of the Legislature, in which Straus and his allies pursue a nuts-and-bolts approach to governing while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate push a hard-line conservative agenda.

Straus tapped state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, to lead the Appropriations Committee, a post that opened up after Dayton Republican John Otto retired.

Central Texas’ relatively green House delegation landed few top posts.

One exception is veteran state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who will sit on four major committees and will be vice-chairwoman of the procedurally important Calendars Committee, which determines which bills are taken up by the House and when.

State Rep. Larry Gonzalez, R-Round Rock, will also sit on four committees, including Appropriations and State and Federal Power and Responsibility, a special panel created by Straus this session.

State Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, will be vice-chairman of Juvenile Justice and Family Issues, and state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, will be vice-chairwoman of Elections.

Austin’s only freshman in the House, Democrat Gina Hinojosa, will sit on three committees: Economic and Small Business Development; Homeland Security and Public Safety; and House Administration.

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