Sheryl Cole And 'Chito' Vela Head To Runoff In Texas House Race, Pushing Dawnna Dukes Out

Mar 6, 2018

Democrats Sheryl Cole and Jose “Chito” Vela will move on to a runoff election for Texas House District 46 after pushing out embattled incumbent Dawnna Dukes in the primary on Tuesday.

The district includes parts of East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville.

Cole, a former Austin City Council member, and Vela, an immigration attorney, both garnered 39 percent of the votes, making it impossible for Dukes to overcome the deficit. They'll compete in a runoff May 22. The winner will face Gabriel Nila, who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination, in November.

Jose "Chito" Vela celebrates with supporters at Nomad bar in North Austin on Tuesday.

“Whoever represents this district has an opportunity to really be an advocate, to really be a fighter, for Democrats – for liberal Democrats – in the state,” Vela said at an election watch event at Nomad in North Austin.

"Dukes had not been providing effective representation to the district for many years at this point. And we saw that in the results tonight," he said. "Really, I think it’s good that the voters were the ones that ultimately made the decision. The voters were the ones that said it was time for a change."

Dukes, D-Austin, is one of the longest-serving members of the Texas House of Representatives. She was first elected in 1994 and had been re-elected in every election since. In 2016, she won re-election with about 70 percent of the vote.

Former City Council Member Sheryl Cole celebrates at an election watch party at Midtown Live on Tuesday.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Dukes promised that if she won re-election that year, though, she would resign immediately for health reasons.

But then she told reporters on the first day of the regular legislative session last year that she decided to stay in office because her health problems had been resolved.

Despite that, Dukes was frequently absent from the Legislature last session. She missed many votes on the House floor, including a vote on the final budget. Some people in her own party had called on her to resign, even proposing a resolution to thank her for her service and ask her to step down.

"I think the primary thing is that she has not shown up and that is not an option," Cole said at an election event Tuesday at the Midtown Live.

Dukes’ final year in office was also dogged by legal problems. A grand jury indicted her on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanors in 2017. The charges alleged Dukes misused public funds and staff. The misdemeanor charges were dropped after Dukes agreed to repay the state, however. Prosecutors were also forced to drop the felony charges after admitting errors.

KUT's Audrey McGlinchy contributed to this report.