House District 46, which lies east of Interstate 35, has been ruled for 24 years by one individual, Dawnna Dukes. Now she faces five challengers, two of which might be formidable obstacles in next week’s Democratic primary election.
Sheryl Cole, former Austin City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem, and immigration attorney Jose “Chito” Vela have emerged as the frontrunners with the strongest chances against Dukes. In recent weeks, Dukes raised $10,000 and spent $12,000, according to campaign finance reports. Cole raised and spent five times more than Dukes while Vela spent three times as much and brought in a little over $8,000.
The three other candidates — Warren Baker, a HD 46 resident; Casey L. McKinney, a former oil and gas lobbyist; and Ana Cortez, a Manor ISD school board trustee — are all running smaller campaigns, according to financial records.
Cole has also received endorsements from state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
“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,” Eckhardt said in a statement at the beginning of last month.
Vela gained endorsements from Austin Tejano Democrats, Austin Young Democrats and Stonewall Democrats of Austin.
“I’m not the handpicked 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 hardworking folks who live in House District 46,” Vela said in a statement last month.
Dukes also faced a months-long controversy last year involving an indictment on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges for falsifying government records for entries on travel vouchers, allowing her to obtain money for expenses she was not permitted to claim. However, the charges were dropped in October.
“It has been a long battle, but one in which I never doubted the outcome,” Dukes said in a Facebook post after the charges were dropped.
Dukes’ reelection campaign also comes following confusion in late 2016 when she announced her resignation, but within weeks said she would not resign after all and ran in the special election, which had to be organized to fill her seat.
More recently, Dukes missed a candidate forum for H D 46 a few weeks ago, which was one of several she has missed since campaigning began last year. Dukes also declined media requests by most media outlets, according to the Austin American-Statesman, and has largely been seen as absent from the campaign since November when she held a campaign kickoff.
In a report by the Statesman, both Cole and Vela said they expected Dukes to be running a stronger campaign.
“It’s fair to say I expected more activity,” Cole told the Statesman.
If the vote after Monday is split, meaning no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the votes, the top–two vote getters will go to a runoff election May 22.