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Several from Austin area eyeing outgoing Texas Rep. Dawnna Dukes' seat

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes has said she will resign on Jan. 10, likely prompting a special election in the Democratic-leaning district.

(L.-R.) Jose “Chito” Vela III, Sheryl Cole and Gabriel Nila.

Despite announcing her plan six weeks earlier to resign instead of serving another term, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes handily won re-election earlier this month.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, abruptly announced her plan to retire in late September, citing health issues related to a 2013 car accident and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter. Her announcement came amid an ongoing investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s office into Duke's alleged misuse of staff and government funds. Prosecutors were ready to ask a grand jury to indict Dukes just before she announced her retirement, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Despite the cloud over her office, Dukes, who has served in the House since 1994, earned about 70 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Gabriel Nila and two minor-party candidates earlier this month. Dukes' House District 46 includes parts of Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Dukes has said her resignation will take effect on Jan. 10, the opening day of the 2017 legislative session. Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from receiving Dukes' letter of resignation to announce the date of a special election to fill the seat, according to the Governor's office.

Here are the Texans who have openly discussed running in the special election:

Gabriel Nila

The 44-year-old has lived in the district since 2012 and teaches at-risk youths in the area. He ran as a Republican against Dukes in the November election, earning around 19 percent of the vote. It was his first bid for public office.

Is he running? Yes. He said he will run in a special election to replace Dukes on the same platform as his recent failed bid for the seat: decriminalizing marijuana possession, working with public schools to improve funding and fighting gentrification in East Austin. 

"I want to ensure that everyone in that community has a voice," Nila said. "We need to make sure everyone is properly heard.”

Sheryl Cole

The 52-year-old former Austin mayor pro tem and city councilwoman is a longtime resident of East Austin. She and her husband, Kevin Cole, have three boys.  

Is she running? Yes. Cole told the Tribune that she’s received "a lot of encouragement" from the community and local activists to pursue Dukes' House seat. She said Austin has “some new challenges in a post-Trump era” and that the district needs a strong leader to focus on important issues like education economic disparity and affordable housing given state lawmakers' history of focusing on “wedge issues” such as bathrooms and border security.

Jose "Chito" Vela III

The 42-year-old attorney has lived in the district for 12 years and sits on the city of Austin's Planning Commission. He is the former board chair of the Workers Defense Project, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants. 

Is he running? Yes. Vela said the district needs a strong, progressive Democrat to represent it in the Texas Legislature. If elected, Vela said he hopes to fight back against the “attack on voting rights” and privatization of education and health and human services. In addition, he said he hopes to help working-class Texans and wants to “kill any [anti-immigrant] bills."

Vincent Harding

The 29-year-old is current chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. He is also a local attorney and graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.    

Is he running? Maybe. “I am seriously considering running for this position," Harding said. "I am seriously prayerfully considering my candidacy and discussing it with my wife. I am proud of the work that I did as a private citizen during the last legislative session to advocate for issues that are important to all Texans, including HD 46 residents.”

Kevin Ludlow

Ludlow ran as a Libertarian against Dukes in the general election and came in third, drawing 6 percent of the vote. He also ran against Dukes in 2014. The 37-year-old is a University of Texas at Austin alumni who operates a software firm and has lived in Austin for 19 years.

Is he running? Probably. Ludlow told the Tribune that he intends to launch another campaign for the seat once Abbott calls a special election. He said he has a platform focused on limiting government; increasing civil rights and civil liberties; and addressing police brutality, the war on drugs and LGBT issues. He also said he wants to end corporate welfare and the use of private prisons in Texas. "We’re living in a system dominated in a two-party rule, [and] we don’t live in a democracy at all," Ludlow said, adding he's disappointed that Republicans and Democrats “work to keep other candidates off the ballot.”

In September, KXAN reported that Joe Deshotel, son of state Rep. Joe Deshotel Sr., D-Beaumont, may run for the open seat. However, in a recent interview with the Tribune, Deshotel said he would not be running.

“I helped launch the start-up Ride Austin after Uber and Lyft left, and I’ve been busy with that ever since. I also serve as the vice-chair of the Community Development Commission for the city of Austin which deals with affordable housing issues and homelessness,” Deshotel said. “I feel like between those things and trying to actually get things accomplished on behalf of District 46 during the legislative session that I will not have time to run a full-time campaign.”

Adam Greely, the Green Party candidate who ran against Dukes in the November election, did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether he’d run in a special election. 

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Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas TribuneA complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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