With less than a month to go before the March 6 Democratic primary, 12-term incumbent state Rep. Dawnna Dukes has a campaign that’s deep in debt and short on buzz while her challengers gain ground among Democratic groups in the House District 46 race.
Sheryl Cole, a former Austin City Council member, has gotten endorsements from notable Austin Democrats including state Sen. Kirk Watson, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and most recently Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt.
Eckhardt’s endorsement was the subject of a press release flaunted by Cole’s campaign on Tuesday.
“Sheryl Cole will bring her laser focus to the Texas House to ensure that the people of District 46 get their fair share of the opportunity they helped build” in Austin, Eckhardt said in a statement.
A day later, the Jose “Chito” Vela III campaign sent out a statement of its own, labeling the immigration lawyer a champion for the district’s “hard-working folks.” It revealed that in the Jan. 1 to Jan. 25 reporting period, Vela garnered 63 donations of $100 or less compared to seven for Cole. Vela has announced endorsements from the Austin Tejano Democrats, Austin Young Democrats, and Stonewall Democrats of Austin.
Since the middle of last year, Cole has raised $103,802 compared with $35,912 for Vela.
“I’m not the hand-picked candidate of those big dollar donors who think they can buy any House District in Travis County, but I am humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve earned from the hard-working folks who live in House District 46,” Vela said in the statement.
In all, five Democrats have lined up to oppose Dukes, who for the past 24 years has served the district that includes parts of East Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.
In response to questions from the American-Statesman, the candidates outlined what they would advocate if elected. The proposals include alleviating East Austin gentrification, legalizing marijuana to fund public education and working more closely with constituents.
Dukes, 54, declined to participate. She has received just $2,250 in political donations since the middle of last year. Dukes last month told the Statesman that media coverage of her indictment on corruption charges “caused irreparable harm to my financial relationships and business health.” Her campaign at the time was $730,000 in debt, most of it stemming from legal bills to fend off accusations that Dukes falsified work travel vouchers.
The case crumbled ahead of a fall trial with prosecutors acknowledging they could not prove any wrongdoing.
A more recent filing from Monday reported the campaign’s debt is $409,825.
• Warren Baker, 34, is a resident of House District 46.
Civic participation: Feeds the homeless at ARCH and sponsors families in need during the Christmas holidays. Operates the organization Camp Discover Foundation.
Proposed changes in HD 46: “I’ve decided to run for office at this important time primarily because our democracy is challenged due to the aftermath of the 2016 national election. In the upcoming election cycle, we need to reaffirm some core Texas principles: 1) truth matters, 2) the rule of law is more important than political advantage, and 3) that being civil shows strength, not weakness. We need to rededicate ourselves to good government at every level; this includes the Texas Legislature. We can do better by working together to find common-sense solutions to our problems and by rechanneling our focus to priorities that matter in the everyday lives of Texans.”
• Sheryl Cole, 53, is a past Austin City council member who is also a licensed attorney specializing in personal injury.
Civic participation: Past member of the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Lone Star Rail.
Proposed changes in HD 46: “To get things done, you have to work in collaboration. On City Council, I worked with AISD leaders to fund parent support specialists and after-school programs on the city’s budget, minimizing effects of the Republican budget cuts. When the affordable housing bonds failed, I brought together grassroots leaders with housing advocates to take it back to the voters and make a difference for working families being priced out of the market. From day one, people will see a new spirit of collaboration, accessibility, and the initiative to bring people together. HD 46 is a diverse district — ethnically, geographically, and economically — but we have shared values. The more we stand together, the more we lift all our families up.”
• Ana Cortez, 38, is a small-business owner and member of the Manor Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Civic participation: Member of Texas Association of School Boards and the Mexican American School Board Association.
Proposed changes in HD 46: “My highest priority upon being elected to HD 46 is bringing trust and servant-leadership to the office by way of personal communication and interaction. Our district needs to refocus, realign and be reengaged due to the years of neglect and under representation. My effectiveness as a representative from East Austin, to Manor to Pflugerville stems from trust, honesty and effective communication. I strive to be a servant-leader who formulates policy and solutions based on the synthesized wants and needs of my constituency mapped to the collective short and long-term goals.”
• Dawnna Dukes, 54, is a 12-term incumbent representing House District 46.
Civic participation: Her office coordinated the Martin Luther King Jr. Clean-Up for 16 years. In the 2017 legislative session, she served on the Appropriations Committee and the International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
She did not respond to questions from the American-Statesman.
• Casey L. McKinney is a community activist and business woman who served in the United States Air Force.
Proposed changes in HD 46: “The benefits of living in a low-cost area that was within walking or biking distance to downtown — East Austin has gone from blighted to trendy, and developers are eager to cash in on the rapidly rising property values. Gentrification is a common and divisive topic in District 46 with significant disagreement about its effects. I am NOT against growth nor development. I am, however, adamant that the East Austin area be developed to benefit, not hurt existing residents. At my fundamental core, I like people more than things. I am not a “corporate Democrat” — my only agenda is to serve the citizens of District 46 — NOT greedy real estate developers, special interest groups, large donors nor corporate lobbyists. I will slow down this gentrification process and reassess its intrinsic value to the community.”
• Jose “Chito” Vela III, 43, is an immigration attorney, whose previous employment includes general counsel for a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives and in the open records division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Civic participation: Former Austin planning commissioner and former chair of the nonprofit Workers Defense Project.
Proposed changes in HD 46: “My immediate legislative priority would be to accept the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act passed by President Obama. Texas’ Republican leadership has refused to expand Medicaid, denying about 900,000 Texans comprehensive health care coverage. This hurts many working-class Texans and weakens our state’s health care system. Criminal justice reform is another priority. Too many Texans are in prison, especially people of color. We must stop criminalizing poverty and end the war on drugs. Marijuana should be legalized and taxed, with the money dedicated to quality public education. And no more felonies for simple possession of drugs. House District 46 is one of Texas’ most liberal districts and deserves a state representative who will be a liberal champion for the Democratic Party.”
About the job
House District 46 includes parts of East Austin, Pflugerville and Manor. The job pays $600 per month, or $7,200 per year, plus a per diem of $190 for each day the Legislature is in session, including special sessions.