Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment from Dukes.
State Rep. Dawnna Dukes confirmed to The Texas Tribune in an email Monday that she is not resigning from her post representing House District 46. The confirmation comes two days after news reports surfaced indicating she had changed her mind.
Dukes, an Austin Democrat, announced in September that she would retire from office on Jan. 10, the first day of the legislative session, after more than 20 years in the Texas House. She cited ongoing health issues and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter — but that announcement came amid a criminal investigation into Dukes by the Travis County District Attorney's Office over an alleged misuse of staff and government funds.
On Saturday, just days after her own spokesperson confirmed to the Tribune that her resignation would go forward, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Dukes had told the new Travis County District Attorney, Margaret Moore, that she had changed her mind about retiring.
Former staff members have accused Dukes of seeking reimbursement from the state for travel payments she was not entitled to. In February, the Tribune reported that the state auditor’s office was investigating her use of state workers for personal projects. In April, the Texas Rangers joined a criminal investigation into Dukes’ behavior and presented their findings to the Travis County DA's office, which is still reviewing the case.
Dukes said in her email that “it was important and proper protocol to be respectful” to Moore and that Moore was “entitled to be informed of my decision before anyone else.”
Her sudden change of heart could mean Dukes starting over in some ways. Her spacious, large-windowed former office near the Capitol rotunda is now occupied by Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. Her new — smaller, windowless — office is on the bottom floor of the Capitol. As of Monday, her name and office were absent from the Capitol directory.
Asked if she was worried about what her constituents would say about her reversal, Dukes said in her email she had received a "huge amount of support" from constituents over the months since her announcement. As opening day loomed, she said, the "more pressure and encouragement" she received from her family and friends.
Dukes resignation announcement in September meant it was too late to take her name off the November ballot. Even after the announcement and amid the investigation, she won re-election with 70 percent of the vote.
“I listened closely to the argument that the District overwhelmingly re-elected me to represent them,” Dukes said. “Constituents showed [up] to my home, sent text and social media messages. Repeatedly, constituents lobbied my parents, family, and friends or anyone who knew me.”
Dukes said she also received messages from former and current legislators urging her to reconsider resigning, especially in the wake of the ongoing Department of Family and Protective Services crisis and her “passion for kids in the conservatorship and my long career battle to perfect DFPS.”
While she would not comment potential bills she may file, Dukes said “a major priority” is to be reappointed to the Article II on Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations — Health and Human Services Subcommittee. She said her historical knowledge about DFPS and Health and Human Services agencies can “be put to good use.”
“They impressed upon me that my institutional knowledge, my expertise on Appropriations, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, the Department of Family and Protective Services and numerous other legislative topics was needed more now than ever,” Dukes said. “In hindsight, I believe that they truly knew my passion for the kids in the conservatorship and my long career battle to perfect DFPS.”
Dukes' health — she suffered spinal and cervical injuries and had to undergo neck surgery after a 2013 car accident — has been an issue for both the representative and opponents seeking her seat. In her email Monday, Dukes said that in recent months her medical team had ramped up efforts to help her continued recovery, even seeing her during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays for appointments with her daughter in tow. Her doctor told her returning to work “would be exponentially good for recovery” and that she “could strongly use my own pain filed life experience and expertise to be an even stronger advocate.”
“It was time to make a decision,” Dukes said. “My doctors gave me the green light and I decided to ensure District 46 had experienced representation starting on Opening Day.”
Saturday's news that Dukes was no longer considering resigning came as a surprise to many — especially those who were considering vying for her seat in a special election to replace her.
Kevin Ludlow, a Libertarian who ran against Dukes in 2014 and 2016, said in a text message on Monday that he doesn't have "the slightest nice things to say about Ms. Dukes."
"She represents everything that is horrible and disgusting with the American political machine and people don't really give a good god damn to change anything," Ludlow said. "I strongly regret not challenging her as a Democrat in the 2016 primary because while I think both sides of the coin are pretty despicable, she truly represents the arrogant, corrupt, self-serving interests that politicians are lovingly revered for."
Read related Tribune coverage:
- State Rep. Dawnna Dukes announced her retirement in September and had planned to make it official on Tuesday. That would make her annual pension payout $3,220 bigger.
- Even after vowing not to serve her district in the next legislative session, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes won more than 70 percent of the vote.
- In September, Dukes announced she was resigning.
- Emails from state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to her office staff show how state workers worked on the African American Community Heritage Festival, a local event Dukes had organized for years. She insisted her staff's work was neither illegal nor improper.