AUSTIN — Business owner Dawnna Dukes was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1996. The Austin native has spent the past 11-terms representing District 46, which encompasses parts of East Austin, Manor, and Pflugerville.
This past legislative session was one filled with criticism and controversy for her. Dukes was indicted and charged with 13 felony charges and two misdemeanors. The Travis County District Attorney later dropped all charges.
Dukes has filed for re-election and sat down with Ashley Goudeau to discuss her campaign.
Question: Tell our viewers why you're seeking re-election.
Dukes: "Why am I seeking re-election to the Texas House of Representatives? For the same reason that I ran the very first time. And that is to represent the issues of a district that I have lived in for all of my 54 years; three generations of family concerns that the City of Austin and the county have historically sat upon as slightly different for our district, and those who did not grow up in the area -- lived in the area for a long time have not been as familiar with... We are in the middle of a time where Democrats are the minority and it's very important to have a voice that not only has expertise on how the legislature operates, but as well, knows specifically the concerns of his or her district and is able to make sure that every single vote that they make is in the best interest of the constituents of District 46 -- not the makeup of a municipality or a county or the school district or for the state. Those are important concerns, but when we make decisions, we need to make sure that the priority is District 46 constituents and our area, and what each of those government levels does. That's what we control at the state level and I have the ability to do that."
Q: You faced some challenges this past legislative session and we want to be transparent, and we want to give you an opportunity to discuss some of those things, starting with the criminal charges that were filed against you and later dropped. What do you want our viewers to know about that ordeal?
Dukes: "Well I think it's very important for the viewers to know that those charges were baseless from the very beginning; As I had stated that I was innocent from the very beginning. The dismissal proves that I was. I was ready to go to trial so that I could bring out a lot of information that I think the people in this community need to know about our criminal justice system and how it operates. And need to know about how so many African-American elected officials in Travis County have had the same or similar experience where charges were brought against them and after they lost re-election then the charges were dropped. They were forced or there were attempts made to try to force them to resign. There were four, maybe five attempts to force me to resign and to try and humiliate and ruin me in the court of public opinion. All for one purpose and that was to get me out of this seat. Here we believe that we have a county that is majority democrat. And if that is the case, we don't believe in that type of politics, where you abuse the system for an outcome... I need to be back in the legislature so that I can bring forth measures that every single person who faces the criminal justice system is insured that they are treated as innocent until proven guilty, and they're not a statistic in the system as I became because that process, although people think 'well she didn't go to jail' but that process completely ruined my financial stability; the health and welfare of my family; the emotional stability of my child; every banking relationship was rescinded and cut, and they were so evil that they went after every single contract that my business had to try to bring me to my knees and force me to resign. That's not justice. That's malicious."
Q: You also faced some criticism, which I think you alluded to some of that, but you faced some criticism regarding your attendance record. Talk to us about how people can be assured that if you are re-elected, you will be there to do the job.
Dukes: "Well, I think people know that in my 22 years of serving that I have been there to do the job. That's why my name is so well known, and that is why the more conservatives come after me more than others because I am active when I am on the House floor or in committee and have always been. This past legislative session I didn't choose for the District Attorney to choose to indict me and to begin a trial. The pressure of that trial takes a toll on a person. Stress can take a toll on everyone. Both of my parents had strokes during the session because of the stress that was involved. My daughter, she had multiple issues, and I don't care what anybody says when your child needs you, you leave. And in February my doctors think that maybe the pressure is what finally sent me to where a predisposition from injuries and a car wreck caused me to finally develop full-blown multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis, dually: right in the middle of the session at the end of February."
WATCH PART 2 HERE
Q: Given your diagnosis, do you feel you're confident and able to serve?
Dukes: "Absolutely. Absolutely, and it gives me so much more that I can bring to the table. Going public and sharing my diagnosis I have met so many people who have multiple sclerosis or who has a loved one who has multiple sclerosis. It is a disease that you just have to manage and I'm fortunate that I have a very good neurologist who found the right type of management for me. Every so many weeks, I do intravenous treatments. I work while I'm getting the treatments. I have worn portable packs, had it underneath my jacket or my shawl, and have been on the house floor to vote and at the microphone debating; no one would know the difference until the buzzer goes off that maybe there's an occlusion."
Q: Before you can get to the general election in November and face the Republican who is running against you, you have five other Democrats in this primary who want to take your place. Why should our viewers vote for you over them?
Dukes: "Well, first of all, it's just crazy that there's only five in this race, and it kind of goes hand in hand with the targeted as well: for the indictments to try and weaken me, to try and bring me down. But the primary reason that voters should vote for me over the others is that I know what I'm doing there at the legislature. I don't just run for office... until I can win something. I've run for the House of Representatives. I haven't tried to do things for me personally; everything has been for the constituents of District 46. I'm the only one who is a native of the district."
"Seniority is everything when you are in a body like a legislature. With there being so many conservatives, it is imperative that you have that seniority to be able to use it to choose the appropriate and most powerful committee that you can to serve your constituents. Right now, I am 11 out of 150, which means that my seat on appropriations is guaranteed because I am the most senior member on the committee and the most senior member who selects who can be on that committee."
Q: Let's turn now to some of the issues the people in District 46 are facing. I think if you go out and you talk to people in the area and you ask them what concerns you, they say affordability. The cost of their home and rising property taxes. What ideas do you have to address those concerns for your constituents?
Dukes: "Affordability of houses, the appraisal district, Travis County Appraisal District: those members are appointed by the Commissioner's Court, determine the appraisal values. During the session, there was legislation, an attempt to cap appraisal values, attempts to cap what cities could raise in and when they had to report to the people in the community that they were making an increase or would do a bond election. Municipalities have fought the state tooth and nail from passing those bills. In fact, one of my opponents was a lobbyist for the Municipal League of Cities and actually lobbied to oppose measures that would have brought down the values of those homes that were skyrocketing. I think it's very important that we put measures in place that are going to help those who not only move into the community under this gentrification ideal but also those who have been there historically. We could set up historical districts like the City of Houston did. The state could give the power to the city to do it but Austin is a home-rule city, so Austin has to implement these things. And I think it's important that the citizens know many times, measures that the citizens may believe would truly be beneficial to them, our organized levels of government, be they the city or the county, they lobby the legislature very hard not to support those measures. I'm just one of the few members of the legislature and certainly, the only one in my delegation that will make a decision for my district -- not just for the City of Austin: the government."
Q: You kind of alluded to the rollback rate and the caps on the rollback rate. Right now, it's eight percent. Is there a number that you're comfortable with that you feel it should be lowered to?
Dukes: "Well no, because there has not been enough data provided to say there is a percentage that would allow for a city to be healthy, but also that is within means for the constituents who are having to pay for that."
Q: Do you have any final thoughts on why you should be re-elected.
Dukes: "Experience, seniority, passion, no-fear, never back down, and I have a track record of passing laws and fighting for the people of District 46 first -- not someone else: not some special interest group, not for the City of Austin or Travis County, but always the people of District 46 first."