Dems vying to replace Dawnna Dukes voted for, donated to Republicans


Turnout is low in Democratic primaries. Turnout is even worse in Democratic primary runoffs.

The people who show up are the most active democratic voters so both candidates vying to replace Rep. Dawnna Dukes tried to make the other look as Republican as possible. 

They traded comments in a debate forum hosted by the Texas Tribune, moderated by Alana Rocha. 

At AFS Cinema in north Austin, immigration attorney Chito Vela faced off in a forum versus former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.

Cole used to be a lobbyist and, at that time, she donated money to the campaign of Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on the Travis County Commissioners Court.

“Gerald Daugherty, which always comes up, helped me with ban the box, which is important to the Latino community and is important to the African-American community. And its just going to be like in the legislature if you want to get something done for the district. I gave him, I think it was a $200 check,” said Cole.

Her opponent Jose “Chito” Vela voted in the 2010 GOP primary. He claims it was to vote against then Gov. Rick Perry in favor of more moderate Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

Cole also pointed out that Vela’s first job out of college was for then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the Republican governor. Vela worked in the attorney general’s open records division.

“I find it extremely disingenuous to say that I worked for Greg Abbott. That’s just an insult to all of the hard-working state employees who today work for Greg Abbott as governor. I don’t tell my mailman, Oh you work for Trump. I think that’s just absolutely ridiculous,” said Vela.

Primary elections often decide races for the Texas Legislature. In east Austin, the state house seat is primed for the first change in more than 20 years after State Rep. Dawnna Dukes failed to win enough votes. 

The winner of this election will face Republican school teacher Gabriel Nila in November, but last time 8 out of 10 voters in the district voted for Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump. So, the May election will likely decide who fills this seat. 

The district goes from Pflugerville, to Manor to east Austin. Historically, it’s been held by one of the few African-American elected officials in Central Texas. Gentrification, however, has brought more white voters into the district while forcing many African-Americans out of the area.

Hispanic Texans are moving into the district as they grow in numbers across the state. In Texas Democratic politics, racial and ethnic voting blocks continue to be very influential, so who lives in the district can play a big role in the election. 

Both candidates received just under 40 percent of the vote in the March primary. The incumbent, Rep. Dukes, lost in March with around 10 percent. Rep. Dukes is not on the ballot but her supporters may very well decide this election. 

The primary runoff election is May 22.

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