Surprising nearly everyone, an embattled lawmaker who had previously announced her resignation has decided at the 11th hour to rescind her announced resignation, staying in office for the session and pulling the rug out from under those who would have tried to fill her vacancy.
In September, State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) had announced that she would not be serving for her twelfth legislative session. However, she would be delaying her retirement until after the legislative session started. The decision, which would have spurred an expensive special election, seemed to be structured in a way that would sizably increase her already generous pension.
Dukes claimed she was retiring for health reasons, specifically injuries sustained from a car accident in 2013. However, that claim was dubious at best with many observers pointing toward her corruption investigation by the Texas Rangers and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
Rosemary Lehmberg, the D.A. at the time, was fairly confident they could obtain an indictment on Dukes.
In 2016, members of Dukes’ staff complained about being required to run personal errands for the representative, as well as work full-time for an East Austin nonprofit event she founded. Similarly, her well-documented cavalier use of campaign-funds raises ethical questions as well.
Perhaps most curious is that her last minute change of heart coincides with a comprehensive changing of the guard at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. Lehmberg, having decided to step down, is no longer the D.A. and has been replaced by Democrat Margaret Moore.
Whether the two are related is unknown, but Dukes’ litany of issues combined with her sudden oscillation certainly merit reasonable suspicion.
Although Dukes’ motives for changing course are unclear, one thing is a near certainty: she can’t do much worse this time around. Last session Dukes was virtually absent from the legislature: missing 84 percent of roll call votes and 44 of her 50 committee meetings.
But perhaps there is a silver lining to Dukes decision to come back after all.
After attempts to bolster legislator ethics died last session, Dukes herself – a walking, talking case for ethics reform – may just be the impetus that lawmakers need to pass the legislation.