Monday, September 11, 2023

State. Rep. Gaines Says Republicans Have To Reach Out–Even To Democrats–To Defeat District Attorney Gonzalez In 2024

***Gaines Identifies Three Ways To Remove Gonzalez***

State Representative Houston Gaines has told Oconee County Republicans that they have to reach out to people they don’t ordinarily talk to if they want to defeat Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez at the ballot box next year.

That outreach includes to people who never attend Republican party meetings, to Independents, to Democrats, to students at the University of Georgia, Gaines, a Republican, said.

“What we’ve got to do in this room is start making sure we are ready to defeat her, whether it is in the Democratic Primary, or the General Election,” Gaines said.

Gaines said the ballot box was one of three ways of removing Gonzalez from office, the others being through legal action and through action of the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission.

The General Assembly created the Qualifications Commission earlier this year with sponsorship by Gaines, and the Commission will begin accepting complaints from citizens on Oct. 1.

Gaines also told the Republicans that Gonzalez is receiving campaign funding from outside the state and he “hopes we might get some legislation moved in the next year” that would limit the amount of funding a candidate can receive from out-of-state sources.

Gaines didn’t say what level of out-of-state funding he would find acceptable, but his own campaign finance statement show that he received 21.4 percent of the $50,700 he raised since the first of the year from out of state, while Gonzalez received 16.2 percent of the $10,972 she raised during that period from non Georgia sources.

Gaines made these comments about removing Gonzalez from office to the Oconee County Republican Party in a meeting open to the public in July. In August, the party met in a “Grass Roots Planning Session” open only to party members.

Three Ways To Remove From Office

Gaines was not a featured speakers at the July 24 meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party at the Piedmont Oconee Health Campus Lobby Meeting Room.

Gaines Official Picture

Ja’Quon Stembridge, Founder and Chairman of the GA 10 Teen Republicans, was the first of the two scheduled speakers.

He was followed by Watkinsville Attorney Kevin Epps, who filed a writ of mandamus against Gonzalez in March saying Gonzalez is not doing her job as District Attorney.

Oconee and Clarke County are partners in the Western Judicial Circuit, which Gonzalez serves as district attorney.

After Epps had given a 45-minute, impassioned summary of problems with the work of Gonzalez, Oconee Republican Party Chair Kathy Hurley asked Gaines to “give us some insight on the new DA oversight and how that may affect her.”

Epps also had focused on steps necessary to defeat Gonzalez in next year’s election.

Gaines spoke and answered questions for 25 minutes, offering his own analysis and criticism of Gonzalez’ performance.

“We are faced with three pathways, in my opinion, three potential ways that Deborah Gonzalez is removed from office,” he said, “Which I think everybody in this room believes is the most important thing.”

Three Ways Explained

The first way, Gaines said, “is obviously what Kevin is doing. I mean this is incredible work. And he has told you, this is not partisan. I mean none of this is partisan. It is just the right things to do.”

“But Kevin did an incredible job,” Gaines said. “So generally there is potential, potential in the courtroom.”

“The second way is the Prosecutor Oversight Commission legislation we passed this year, but we have been working on for the last couple of years,” he said. (Officially, the name is the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission.)

The Commission will have “until Oct. 1 to write the rules and regulations,” he said. “And on Oct. 1 they will begin accepting complaints from citizens. And I expect on Oct. 1 they’ll receive a complaint.”

That produced laughter from the audience.

“And the third way is, as everybody’s talked about, is an election next year,” Gaines said. “And what we’ve got to do in this room is start making sure we are ready to defeat her whether it is in the Democratic Primary or the General Election.”

“There’s going to be candidates, I suspect multiple candidates, that’s running,” he said. “And we have to be prepared for that.”

Campaign Finance

Gaines told the group that Gonzalez “has a lot of money come in from out of state” to support her.

At that point, someone in the audience asked Gaines if Gonzalez was getting money from George Soros, the American businessman and philanthropist who has donated money to liberal causes.

“She is,” Gaines answered. “She’s getting a ton of George Soros money. And it is not this bogey man money that’s not real. It’s real. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that is coming in from national groups.”

“It is coming in to support her,” Gaines said. “Her efforts in the courtroom and to fight Kevin.”

“But it is coming into her campaign as well,” Gaines said. “Fair Fight Stacey Abram’s group has endorsed her reelection. There’s going to be a ton of money supporting her efforts.”

Legislative Action

Someone then asked Gaines if the legislature was doing anything to prevent that kind of outside funding.

“We have looked at that,” he said. “And my hope is that we might get some legislation moved in the next year on that.”

“There have been many court rulings,” he said. “That’s the challenge, because of the ability to limit speech.”

“But I totally agree with you,” he said. “Certainly, a majority of your funding should not come from out of state.”

“I’d love to get rid of all out-of-state funding,” he said. “Every bit of it.”

“We don’t believe we can do that with the law,” Gaines said. “But we do believe that you could say less than half, or whatever that percentage is, can’t come from out of state. And so we are looking into that.”

Gonzalez June 30 Campaign Finance Report

In her Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report, filed on July 11 with the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission, Gonzalez listed $10,972 in “Total contributions” for the first six months of the year.

Of those contributions, $2,190 was for amounts of $100 or less, with the remaining $8,781 contributions of greater than that amount. Contributions of greater than $100 are required to be itemized and to list the donor.

The downloaded spreadsheet of those $10,972 in contributions shows 48 contributed $100 or less. No address of the donor is required for those contributions, and none was given.

The data file lists 34 donation for which an address is given, though 13 of those were for less than $101 and did not require itemization.

Her largest donation, for $2,500, was from her husband, Robert Scott.

All of the donations were from individuals, with Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Washington being the only out-of-state addresses.

These four individuals with out-of-state addresses contributed $1,774, or 16.2 percent of her total of $10,972 in contributions.

Gonzalez lists her “Net Balance On Hand” at the end of July of this year as $17,584.

Gaines June 30 Campaign Finance Report

In his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report, filed on July 10 with the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission, Gaines listed $29,600 in “Total contributions” for the first six months of the year. But he had filed another statement on Jan. 31, listing $21,100 in contributions,

Of those contributions on both forms, $200 was for amounts of $100 or less, with the remaining contributions of greater than that amount.

The downloaded spreadsheet for the first six months of the year showed a total of $50,700 in contributions from 84 contributors, with all but two listing an address.

Only 10 of those donations were for 100 or less.

His largest donation was $3,000 from the Community Development and Health PAC of Georgia, based on Atlanta.

Gaines received funding from Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. since the first of this year.

The 23 out-of-state contributors gave Gaines $10,850, or 21.4 percent of his total collection of $50,700.

Gaines lists his “Net Balance On Hand” at the end of July as $456,586.

Contributions Since 2022 And Expenditures

The data file available from the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission deals only with campaign contributions.

The data file for Gonzalez shows only 24 contributions prior to January of this year, and none of them was from out of state.

Only one of the 24 was greater than $100, and that was for $250, and all of them that listed an address (13) reported Athens as the city.

Candidates also are required to file a list of their expenditures.

Since he beginning of 2022, Gonzalez has reported spending $16,890 from her campaign account, according to the downloaded data file listing her expenditures.

The largest of those expenditures was $1,150 in June of last year for the Swissotel in Chicago for “Candidate Travel, Lodging, and Meals” followed by $556 for Chick-Fil-A for “Other.”

Personal Finance

Gonzalez filed her required Financial Disclosure Statement on July 2, listing her personal residence as the only property she owns.

She lists her occupation as District Attorney and her employer as “Prosecuting Attorney’s Council” and her principal activity as “State Prosecutor.”

Epps told the Oconee County Republicans that the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council had contributed $500,000 to Gonzalez to defend herself against his writ of mandamus, but that that decision subsequently was reversed.

Epps At June 10 Meeting From YouTube

Gonzalez lists her spouse as a professor at the University of Georgia in “Higher Education Administration.”

Gaines lists his occupation as “Director” with Carter Engineering in Oconee County and his employer’s Principal Activity as Civil Engineering Consulting.

In his 2022 filing, Gaines also had listed his occupation as “Client Advisor” with Cannon Financial Institute, which provided consulting and training for the financial services industry. He listed that same occupation and employer alone in 2021.

Gonzalez and Gaines are nearby neighbors, as both live in neighborhoods off Timothy Road between Atlanta Highway and Epps Bridge Parkway.

Voting History

In his comments, Gaines emphasized that the Republicans in the room were not going to defeat Gonzalez at the ballot box unless they reached out to others.

“And so we’ve got to go tell the message to Independents and Democrats that this is not the person,” Gaines said, referencing Gonzalez.

“This is not about politics or partisan things,” he said. This is about someone who has no clue about how to do their job. We just need a prosecutor who can enforce the law. That’s the job of the prosecutor.”

Gonzalez was elected District Attorney in 2020 in a special election that included a runoff.

In the November election, Gonzalez got 24.4 percent of the vote in Oconee County, but 60.1 percent of the vote in Clarke County, ending up with 48.4 percent of the vote.

In the Dec. 1 runoff, Gonzalez got only 23.9 percent of the vote in Oconee County, but she got 66.7 percent of the vote in Clarke County, and overall got 51.7 percent of the vote.

Gonzalez had defeated Gaines in a special election for the statehouse in November of 2017 by getting 64.1 percent of the vote in Clarke County. She obtained only 34.1 percent of the vote in Oconee County.

The following year, Gaines defeated Gonzales in a rematch, but Gonzalez received 58.4 percent of the vote in Clarke County and only 27.8 percent of the vote in Oconee County.

Origin Of Story

The Oconee Enterprise reported on Epps’ comments at the July 24 Republican Party meeting in a front page story in the July 27 edition of the paper.

The story mentioned that Gaines also had spoken and had commented on the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission.

Someone told me that Gaines also had commented on the importance of the upcoming election. The Oconee County Republican Party bans the audio and video recording of its meetings, but the audio ban is difficult to enforce, and I was able to obtain an audio recording of the meeting and verify its authenticity.

The July 25 posting on the Oconee County Republican Party Facebook page does not give any indication what Gaines had said and only hints at what Epps and Stembridge said. It shows two pictures of Gaines, including one in which he was at the front of the room speaking.

“We have to go out and talk to groups we haven’t talked to in the past,” Gaines said at that meeting. “Whether it is going on UGA’s campus and talking about public safety for students that are walking.”

“They’re downtown or they’re on Milledge or on Baxter street,” he said. “We’ve got to go and let students know that their public safety is at risk. We’ve got to go share this message. Not to maybe the groups we always go.”

“Listen, everybody in this room, we’ve been to this meeting before,” Gaines said. “That’s great. “

“But we’ve got to go tell 10 people we’ve never seen at this meeting before about what you heard tonight from Kevin and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Gaines said. “We’ve got to go spread the message.”

Epps Initial Comments

Epps began his comments to the Oconee County Republicans by saying “I did not come to speak to you as a Republican. I don’t come to speak to you as a Democrat. I don’t come to speak to you as an Independent.”

“I come to speak to you as a member of our community,” he said. “And our community is hurting.”

Epps also said “I’m not running for district attorney. You will not see my name on the ballot. I think it is hard for Ms. Gonzalez and the other people who have attacked me to understand that I’m doing this for our community.”

“The message that I’m delivering to you here today is a message that I wish you would take back to everybody,” he said. “Speak to anybody you know.”

Problems Identified

Epps spent much of his time talking about prosecutorial problems in cases involving Clarke County before turning to Oconee County.

“You want to talk about how Oconee County is being directly affected?” he asked. “I’ll tell you. I’ve got three dismissals where Ms. Gonzales dismissed felony drug cases that were picked up here in Oconee County.”

“And you know what her reason was, you all? It is because the GBI Crime results were not back,” he said.

Epps said the problem was with the District Attorney Office, not the GBI.

Shoplifting cases in Oconee County are not being prosecuted, he said.

“You get a DUI in Oconee County, you’re not going to get a DUI conviction,” he said.

Web Site And Challenge

Epps said he has created a web site that documents the problem he and a group of six other attorney working with him have identified with the work of Gonzalez and asked those present to share the link.

Epps said he and his colleagues are all working without compensation.

“Invite me to speak,” Epps said. “You want me speak to come speak to Democrats. I’ll come talk to you. You want to me come speak to, I don’t know, Show Time Tuesday Night Bowling League. I’ll come talk to you.”

“What I’ve just given to you is a snippet of what I’ve seen every day,” he said.

“This is not about politics,” Epps said. “I anticipate that she will get somebody probably running against her in the Democratic Primary. It won’t be me.”

“And you’ve got to make a decision as Republicans,” he said. “Whether or not you might vote in that primary election against somebody that might get her to lose and get her out. Or whether or not you’re going to vote in the Republican Primary.”

“That is a choice you are going to have to make because, like it or not, we’re not seceding (from the Western Judicial Circuit). We don’t have that option,” he said.

“Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County are together when it comes to Deborah Gonzalez,” Epps said.

Epps spoke before the Clarke County Republican Party on June 12, and the video of that presentation is on the party’s YouTube Channel.

Stembridge Comments

Stembridge, a senior at Greene County High School, told the Oconee County Republicans that he got involved in politics in 2020 during COVID-19 closures.

Stembridge At July 12 Meeting From YouTube

“I didn’t like the government being in control of my life,” he said. “So that was when I started taking a stand, taking action, getting involved in politics.”

After the 2022 campaign, he said, he realized that “The Republican Party has a huge problem.”

The party lost the youth vote both at the national level and in Georgia, he said.

“The Republican Party is a dying organization,” Stembridge said.

This recognition is what motivated Stembridge to found the GA 10 Teen Republicans, he said.

“How can you make Georgia a red state again?” Stembridge asked. “It is pretty simple. All you have to do is get the youth involved.”

“We need to start giving our message to young conservatives or people who are not even conservatives necessarily,” he said.

Stembridge spoke before the Clarke County Republican Party on July 10 and that video is on the party’s YouTube Channel.

1 comment:

Harold Thompson said...

Like his half-brained idea to lower recall to 2%, Gaines idea of restricting out of state donations will not be well received by his colleagues in the legislature. Yeah that first amendment just gets in the way of thwarting democracy.