More than 150,000 voters in Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties are in danger of having their votes suppressed if Gov. Brian Kemp fails to take action in the next three weeks. To urge the governor to protect the democratic rights of these voters, Atlanta law firm Krevolin Horst’s client, Deborah Gonzalez again reached out to urge Gov. Kemp to exercise his powers under Art. VI, Sec. VIII, Para. I(a) and appoint a District Attorney in the Western Judicial Circuit prior to May 3, 2020. Taking action after that deadline would effectively cancel the DA election this year and suppress the votes of more than 150,000 voters in Kemp’s hometown.
Why are DA races important? Why should we care if there is an election for DA in Athens, GA? The story making the rounds today bring the discretionary power of a DA in stark highlight:
“The elder McMichael is a retired investigator in the district attorney’s office. So far, prosecutors have said that they acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute. To complicate the matters, because McMichael worked in the district attorney’s office, George E. Barnhill, the Waycross County D.A., chose to recuse himself for what would have been a conflict of interest. He chose to have the case transferred to a nearby county.
Despite recusing himself from the case, Barnhill still wrote a letter to police that Arbery had a criminal past including a conviction for shoplifting and probation violation in 2018”
The threat to voter rights was triggered when Western Circuit District Attorney Ken Mauldin resigned at the end of February. A little noticed changed in legislation passed by the state of Georgia in 2018 (in connection with a Douglas County election for district attorney) not only allows the governor to appoint his own District Attorney, but gives him the power to choose to delay the election of a new DA based on when he appoints the successor. According to the law, Georgia Code, Title 45, Section 5, modified by the legislature in 2018: GA Code § 45-5-3.2 (2018), if the Governor makes the appointment by May 3rd (six months prior to the general election) he can call a special election to be held at the same time as the general election on November 3, 2020. If he makes the appointment after May 3rd, the appointee does not have to face an election until the next general election in 2022, leaving over 150,000 voters without any way to exercise their right to vote for this seat.
At the time of Mauldin’s resignation there were two Democrats already campaigning for the seat, including Deborah Gonzalez, former state representative of HD117 (Athens). Gonzalez is running on a progressive platform of criminal justice reform and community engagement within the DA’s office.
Governor Kemp already has a short list of 5 individuals who his office had selected to be interviewed for the DA position in the Western Circuit. The current coronavirus emergency should not be a barrier: the Governor has made a number of Judicial appointments in the last two weeks despite the pandemic, indicating that certain tasks and functions of the Governor’s office continue to proceed as normal.
The letter delivered to the Governor asks for his timely appointment of the position and argues to not do so would produce troubling results and set a dangerous precedent that violates the constitutional rights of voters and of potential candidates for the office of District Attorney throughout Georgia.
To view video of Ms. Gonzalez’s statement regarding the consequences of Mauldin’s resignation see this link: https://youtu.be/iIgFXvg1Jp8 A link to her written statement is here: http://bit.ly/2H62Tvi. To view video from Athens Politics Nerd with Rep. Houston Gaines and Rep. Marcus Weidower (R) agreeing that an election should be held: https://athenspoliticsnerd.com/mauldin-resignation-threatens-district-attorney-election/.
To learn more about Deborah Gonzalez for DA, visit deborahforda.com.
This letter was submitted by Gonzalez's campaign