District Attorney Ken Mauldin’s announcement last week that he would resign on Feb. 29 rather than retire at the end of his current term in December has scrambled plans for the election of a successor and given Gov. Brian Kemp control over the outcome.
Before that announcement, Deborah Gonzalez and Brian Patterson were contending for the Democratic nomination for district attorney in the May 19 Democratic primary. No one has declared for the Republican Party nomination.
With the Mauldin announcement, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has the ability to appointment a replacement for Mauldin, a Democrat. Mauldin represents the Western Judicial Circuit of the Superior Court, made up of Oconee and Clarke counties.
If Kemp makes that appointment by May 3, the state would hold a special election on Nov. 3 to replace Mauldin.
The special election would be without a primary, and Gonzalez, Patterson and any other candidate could run against each other, using the party label she or he chooses.
If Kemp makes the appointment after May 3, the November election would be bypassed, and the district attorney appointed by Kemp would remain in office until an election in November of 2022, when Kemp also is likely to be on the ballot.
If Kemp does not make the appointment by Feb. 29, when Mauldin steps down, Patterson, who currently serves as chief assistant district attorney, would take over the duties of district attorney, according to state law, “until such official's successor is appointed or elected and qualified.”
Gonzalez has launched an aggressive campaign to urge Kemp to appoint a district attorney by May 3 so there is an election in November. Mauldin also has said in a news release that he asked Kemp to make the appointment “in time for there to be an election this year.”
Gonzalez produced a nearly seven-minute-long video on YouTube and issued a statement arguing that if Kemp does not make the appointment by May 3 “the people of Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties will have their right to choose their own elected official taken away from them.”
“I am asking that the Governor consider the people of this community, appoint the new DA before May 3rd and call for a special election for DA this November," Gonzalez said.
She also has launched a petition to Gov. Kemp on Change.org asking him to make the appointment by May 3 and is encouraging people to call the Governor’s Constituent Services Office (404- 656-1776) and request that the appointment be made in time to allow for a special election.
“If Brian Kemp cares about this community and the right of his hometown to have basic democratic representation and a criminal justice system we can believe in, he must do the right thing,” Gonzalez said.
I attempted to reach Patterson on Sunday before I originally posted this story but was unsuccessful.
Patterson told me in a telephone conversation just after 2:30 today (Feb. 10) he “was not expecting” Mauldin to step down when Mauldin made the announcement on Feb. 5.
“No matter when the election is held,” Patterson said, “I will be prepared to make my case to the voters.”
“I have been preparing for a May election,” Patterson said. “This decision has taken that out of my and Ms. Gonzalez’s hands.”
I did not receive a copy of Mauldin’s announcement, but it is published on The Oconee Enterprise web page.
“I wanted to provide notice now so that there is a sufficient period of time for my successor in office to be appointed in time for there to be an election this year,” Mauldin wrote That is my strong desire.”
Had Mauldin remained in office until his term ended on Dec. 31, as he said he would do when he announced his retirement in July of last year, voters in Oconee and Clarke counties would have chosen the party nominees in the May 19 primaries and Mauldin’s replacement in the Nov. 3 general election.
Under Georgia Code, “Upon the death or resignation of a district attorney, the chief assistant district attorney or, if there is no chief assistant district attorney, the assistant district attorney senior in time of service shall perform the duties of the deceased or resigned district attorney in his or her name until such official's successor is appointed or elected and qualified.”
Patterson is the “chief assistant district attorney” for the Western Judicial Circuit under Mauldin.
Georgia Code also specifies that the Governor has the right to name a replacement to serve the unexpired term of the district attorney in the case of a death or resignation.
In 2018, however, the Georgia General Assembly modified the terms under which the replacement is named when it passed House Bill 907.
House Bill 907
House Bill 907 extended the term of the appointed district attorney beyond the end of the unexpired term of the prior district attorney if the next general election is not at least six months after appointment.
It also stated that the vacancy should be filled via a special election “on the same date as the state-wide November general election.” But that general election would have to be “more than six months after the appointment of an individual to fill the vacancy.”
If Kemp were to wait until after May 3 to fill the vacancy, the next general election for replacement of the appointment would be in 2022.
Georgia Code states that “Candidates in special elections for partisan offices shall be listed alphabetically on the ballot and may choose to designate on the ballot their party affiliation.”
Votes on HB 907
The Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 907 by a vote of 116 to 56.
Gonzalez was serving in the General Assembly in 2018 when the bill was passed, and she voted against the changes, as did then 119th House District Representative Jonathan Wallace and 118th House District Representative Spencer Frye. All three are Democrats.
House District 117 includes three of Oconee Counties 12 precincts as well as parts of Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties.
House District 119 is made up of the remainder of Oconee County and parts of Clarke County.
House District 118 is entirely in Clarke County.
The bill passed 49-2 in the Senate, with Bill Cowsert from the 46th Senate District and Frank Ginn from the 47th Senate District voting in favor of the bill. Both are Republicans.
All of Oconee falls in the 46th Senate District, as well as parts of Clarke and Walton counties.
The remainder of Clarke County falls in the 47th Senate District.
Background On HB 907
In her video and statement, Gonzalez say that HB 907 was designed to allow for the appointment of a district attorney in Douglas County, west of Atlanta.
Following passage of HB 907, then Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Ryan Leonard as district attorney to fill a vacancy created when Deal appointed the elected district attorney to a vacant state court judgeship. No election was held.
Gonzale said HB 907 was “designed to perpetuate a race-based, good old boy network in Douglas County.”
If Gov. Kemp makes the appointment after May 3 he “would only serve to shut down this community’s first ever electoral debate on criminal justice reform and perpetuate the current, failed system of mass incarceration, exposing for all to see the continuation of a legacy of suppression of members of this community who have long been oppressed.”
Gonzalez spoke on her plans for criminal justice reform at the January meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Patterson is scheduled to speak at the next Democratic Party meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.