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Deborah Gonzalez Wins Athens District Attorney Race

District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez.

Progressive Democrat Deborah Gonzalez eked out a victory Tuesday over prosecutor James Chafin in a runoff for Western Circuit district attorney.

Gonzalez won 51.7% of 26,100 votes cast in a race that split down county and party lines, despite Chafin running as an independent.

With a promise to reform the criminal justice system, fight discrimination and end cash bail for low-level and nonviolent defendants, Gonzalez won 67% of the vote in Clarke County, where she had 60% support in a three-way special election Nov. 3.

Chafin’s strong support in heavily Republican Oconee County, the other county that makes up the Western Circuit, continued in the runoff. He won 76% of the vote there and 48.3% overall.

However, Clarke County voters outnumber Oconee County voters by more than two to one, so Gonzalez was able to win even though her margin in Clarke was smaller than Chafin’s in Oconee, and the turnout rate in Oconee was higher than in Clarke.

Chafin, the deputy chief assistant under former DA Ken Mauldin, emphasized his 14 years of experience as a prosecutor and criticized Gonzalez’s lack of it. She is primarily a media and entertainment lawyer, but countered that she had leadership and policy experience as a former state representative, and attacked Chafin as the product of a failed good-old-boy system.

Gonzalez had to fight to even get on the ballot this year. Originally, the race was set to be a Democratic primary between her and acting DA Brian Patterson. However, Mauldin abruptly resigned in February, triggering a state law that could have pushed the election back to 2022. Gonzalez filed a lawsuit to overturn the law and succeeded. But because Mauldin resigned instead of serving out his term as planned, the race became a special election, and Chafin jumped in as an independent.

Despite three candidates in the race, Gonzalez nearly won without a runoff in November, garnering 48% of the vote to Chafin’s 35% and Patterson’s 17%.