Citing ongoing medical issues connected to a 2013 car accident, Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced she will resign on January 10. She was seeking her 12th term and will remain on the ballot in November. Dukes faces Manor special educator Gabriel Nila, a Republican, and two minor party candidates.
A special election will be needed to fill her seat, assuming she wins re-election in her heavily Democratic district in November. Democratic candidates had a 17,637-vote advantage in straight-ticket voting in the district in 2012.
Because the vacancy will occur during a legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott will call for an expedited special election. Several House seats were determined by similar expedited elections in 2015.
Section 203.013, Election Code, requires the election to be held on a Tuesday or Saturday between the 21st and 45th day after the special election is ordered. A runoff would occur between the 12th and 25th day after it is ordered, which occurs about 10 days after the special election.
Dukes’s decision to resign in January means the district may be without an elected representative in the House for up to half of the legislative session. The same expedited schedule for electing a new representative would be triggered if Dukes were to resign within 60 days of the start of the legislative session, potentially permitting the incoming member to take the oath of office alongside the new legislature.
Former Austin council member Sheryl Cole is expected to run for the seat. She was the only African-American woman elected to the council, serving from 2006 until 2015. Joe Deshotel, son of Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), and Travis Co. Democratic Party chair Vincent Harding are considering the race. The latter would be required to relinquish his chairmanship once he has formally declared, so it is unlikely he would make any move until after the general election. Other candidates are expected to seek the seat.
Former council member Mike Martinez said he would not run and instead endorsed Cole. Without naming anyone specific, the director of Annie’s List said the group would support a “qualified woman” with a “proven track record.”
Dukes received some bipartisan praise shortly after her decision to retire circulated. Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) called her decision a “real talent loss” for the House. Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) tweeted this tribute:
Despite our passionate disagreements, @DawnnaDukes made it fun and kept us on our toes. This photo is framed in my office. #txlege pic.twitter.com/xWX76xGlDj
— Jeff Leach (@leachfortexas) September 26, 2016