State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) is leaving office after a major health scare and amid an ongoing corruption probe. Though she's said she won't retire until after the upcoming election, her seat is now in the spotlight.
Sidelined for most of the 2015 legislative session while recovering from an August 2013 car accident, the Austin attorney announced earlier this month health concerns prompted her decision to retire in January. Dukes remains on the November ballot opposite middle school science teacher and Republican House District 46 nominee Gabriel Nila.
"No one was representing the whole spectrum of people in House District 46," Nila told KVUE Tuesday, explaining his decision to run grew out of frustration over the district's lack of representation. The Republican nominee describes his platform as strengthening the family.
If reelected, Dukes' retirement would trigger a special election next year, set by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. The most high-profile Democrat to express interest in a potential statehouse bid is Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole.
"One of the major issues that I dealt with at the city was affordability and affordable housing," Cole told KVUE. "I think that's something that is being addressed locally very well by this council, but also needs to be addressed better at the state level."
A former PTA president and longtime Austin resident, Cole's focus is education. "I think that when you talk about the lack of funding for education and the educational disparities, that automatically leads to disparities in economic opportunity. And we know that," said Cole, who contends it's important the district preserve its traditionally progressive voice.
"I think that the legislature has spent a lot of time on wedge issues, issues to divide people," said Cole. "And I've always been one to try to bring people together. And I'm hoping that I'll be able to do that if I'm honored to serve this district."
Cole has yet to formally declare a campaign. Dukes would still have to win and then retire to trigger a special election, which is expected to be packed with strong contenders. Nila argues he would work hard for underrepresented constituencies within HD 46 and, as the Republican on the ballot this November, he would be able to go to work for the district without a special election.
"If you want to have no representation, go ahead," said Nila. "But here's the problem: We're not going to be able to have anything done for that legislative session. We're not going to be able to submit bills in a timely manner, and we're not going to be able to properly fight them."
Early voting begins October 24 and runs through November 4. Election Day is November 8.