Deborah Gonzalez and Andrew Ferguson used the opportunity of the meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party last month to introduce themselves to those in attendance.
For Gonzalez, it was a matter of a re-introduction, and she said she was going to respond to the “first question most people ask me.”
She said she was running for District Attorney for Oconee and Clarke counties rather than to reclaim her seat at District 117 Representative to the Georgia House because she thinks she will have “the biggest impact” as district attorney.
Andrew Ferguson was new to the group, so he spent more time talking about his background, his motivation for wanting to challenge Jody Hice, incumbent Republican District 10 Congressman, and his stands on a number of issues.
Ferguson said his family struggled with health issues while he was growing up, he believes that “everyone should have health care regardless of their ability to pay,” and, in his view, Rep. Hice has not addressed the needs of the district since he assumed office in 2015.
Both Gonzalez and Ferguson are from Athens. Both have opposition in the Democratic primary on May 19.
Brian Patterson, chief assistant district attorney under retiring District Attorney Ken Mauldin, also is seeking the Democratic Party nomination. So far, no one has announced for the Republican nomination.
Others in the Democratic race to run against Hice include Tabitha Johnson-Green, a nurse from Sandersville in Washington County, who won the primary in 2018 and then lost to Hice in the November general election. Hice received 63 percent of the vote to 37 percent for Johnson-Green.
Gonzalez And Criminal Justice
Gonzalez said she “was very honored” to have served in the Georgia House of Representatives for the 2018 session. The 117th House District, which Gonzalez represented, includes western Clarke County, three precincts in Oconee County, and parts of Barrow and Jackson counties.
During her year in the House, Gonzalez said, she served on the House Judiciary Non-Civil House Committee, and that experience gave her a view “behind the curtain” of criminal justice issues in the state.
Gonzalez said she had the opportunity to see “what does criminal justice reform look like” and learn “what are the concerns that we have with our criminal legal system now.”
“So when I took a step back,” Gonzalez said, “I said I know I want to do public service. But where would I make the biggest impact?”
From that assessment, Gonzalez told the 24 people in the audience, she decided that as district attorney she could have the kind of impact she was seeking.
The meeting took place at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
Need For Change
Gonzalez said that only two men, incumbent Ken Mauldin and his predecessor, Harry Gordon, have held the District Attorney office of the Superior Court of Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, in the last 48 years. Mauldin has held that position since 2001.
The district attorney is in charge of state criminal prosecutions in the Superior Court, Gonzalez explained. The prosecutor decides whom to charge, what to charge them with, and, because of plea bargaining, often what sentence they were serve, she added.
Criminal justice reform under former Gov. Nathan Deal has kept people out of jail, Gonzalez said, but it has resulted in long probation periods. The people on probation have to pay for the probation monitoring, she said.
“We are incarcerating people for being poor and making them poorer in the process,” she said.
“My approach to the criminal legal system is I want to transform it to a true criminal justice system,” Gonzalez said. “We will hold people accountable, but we will not be cruel or punitive when we do so.”
Rehabilitation, Bias In System
“We know that our system is no longer rehabilitating people,” Gonzalez said. “Are we sending back better people or better criminals? Are we preparing the community to take them back? Are we preparing the people to go back? No. We’re not doing that.”
“I want to create a DA office that would work with all of the stakeholders in the system,” Gonzalez said. “I want a collaborative approach to keeping our community safe. I want to make sure that we are looking at not just how we take that person out–almost like out of sight out of mind. But what’s going to happen when they actually go back to the community?”
Gonzalez said the criminal justice system at present “disproportionately affects a certain part of our population.”
She said when she got into politics four years ago she “put out a statement on Facebook saying I’m color blind. I don’t see black or white. And I got called out on it. And I said what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be? Not taking into account a person’s color.
“And so I listened and I read some stuff that they suggested and this is what I discovered,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t be color blind. Because if we are then we never see the problem. And if we don’t see the problem, we can’t solve it.
“There is a color problem in our system,” Gonzalez said. “And we need to see it and acknowledge it to make it right. And it took me time to get to that. But it is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about doing this work.”
Advantage She Says She Has
Gonzalez said she will hire a grant writer to find funds, some of them federal, to develop programs to help people re-enter the community.
She said she also would focus on transparency of the office and on generating and publicizing data on the operation of the office.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Patterson has been in the District Attorney office for 17 years, Gonzalez said.
“One of the advantages that I bring into this race is that I’m an outsider in a way,” she said. “So I can be bold...with what I want to do because I don’t owe anybody anything. My opponent is kind of trapped in one way, isn’t he?”
Gonzalez said Patterson is “only going to go so far. I can bring new ideas that he cannot at this point.”
Patterson is scheduled to speak to the Oconee County Democratic Party at its February meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 20 in the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.
Ferguson said he grew up in Duluth in Gwinnett County, and his father owned 12 convenience stories, including the Shell station at the Oconee Connector and Epps Bridge Parkway. The family has now sold the business.
Ferguson said he managed the University of Georgia Golf Course and now is working as a screen writer in Athens.
Ferguson said his father had health problems, and his mother struggled to keep the family going with a teacher’s salary.
He said this has led him to believe that the county needs Medicare for all.
Ferguson said he “felt the call to politics after the 2016 election” and has worked for “three outstanding women.”
They are Challis Montgomery, who ran for the Democratic nomination for the 10th Congressional District in 2018, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and U.S. Elizabeth Warren. Ferguson said he stopped working for Warren’s presidential campaign in July to launch his own campaign.
“My takeaway from all of those campaigns is that we must fight for working families now more than ever,” Ferguson said. “We must fight for equality now more than ever. We must fight for our democracy now more than ever.”
Attack On Hice’s Record
Ferguson said the 10th Congressional District, which stretches across all or parts of 25 counties from Athens to Interstate 16 and from the eastern suburbs of Atlanta to the Savannah River, has one of the highest poverty rates, maternal mortality rates, and incarceration rates for Black men it the state.
“What has Jody Hice done about any of this?” Ferguson asked. “Nothing.”
“We can’t wait another two years for Jody Hice to realize that $7.25–the national minimum wage–isn’t enough to get by on let alone raise a family on,” Ferguson said. “We need to raise the minimum wage so that if people work hard they can buy a house, or they can start a business or they can raise a family without having to work two or three jobs.”
“We can’t wait another two years for Jody Hice to realize that instead of being in court fighting to take away the ACA and with it pre-existing conditions,” Ferguson said, “that we should be in Washington doing the work of the people adding to our health care system in a way that covers everyone regardless of their ability to pay. (ACA is for Affordable Care Act.)
“We can’t wait another two years for Jody Hice to realize that every child deserves a first class education regardless of their zip code,” Ferguson continued. “That’s why we need rural broadband expansion and more funding for our public schools so every child has a chance to thrive and live their dreams.”
“Our schools and roads are crumbling,” Ferguson said. “That’s an emergency. Hospitals are closing. That’s an emergency. Jobs are fleeing rural areas and with it, our young people. That’s an emergency. Jody Hice has a seat at the table and does not give a damn.
“The only way we are ever going to get a government that works for us is by taking it at the ballot box,” Ferguson said.
Can’t Wait List
Ferguson has organized his campaign around the theme “Georgia Can’t Wait,” and he spoke for a little less than 15 minutes at the Jan. 16 Oconee County Democratic Party meeting before moving to a large flip chart at the front of the room headed “Oconee County Can’t Wait.”
|Ferguson With Oconee Can't Wait List (Click To Enlarge)|
Ferguson spent 15 minutes taking comments from the audience about the things that the county cannot wait to see happen.
The first item was affordable housing, followed by a minimum wage increase and high speed Internet everywhere.
Also included were public transportation, Medicaid expansion, renewable energy, and transparency in healthcare pricing and billing.
Ferguson said he uses the technique as he travels through the district.
The responses from the audiences are largely the same, he said.
The video below is of the entire meeting of the Oconee County Democratic Party on Jan. 16 in the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
Gonzalez began her comments at 11:29 in the video.
Ferguson began speaking at 43:13 in the video.
I also attended the meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party on Jan. 27, when Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Lt. Governor Policy Director Mike Dudgeon spoke.
I will upload that video shortly and write about the presentations as quickly as possible.