Letters to the EditorNews

Experience Is the Wrong Qualification for DA

Deborah Gonzalez  is running for district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit. I support Deborah. Having received the most votes of any candidate thus far, she is nevertheless in a runoff election. It’s on Dec. 1. Please get out and vote for Deborah. 

Here’s why I support her and not her opponent: Her opponent has refused to appear to debate and discuss the issues with Gonzalez in all three of the scheduled runoff debates. Yet her opponent, James Chafin, is running on experience. He believes experience is enough. I disagree. The question is, experience doing what? 

His experience is in working on the assembly line of a very old system of criminal law, one in which they use very large hammers on very small nails.  His experience has caused him to become comfortable with and accustomed to the infliction of punishment. His experience, which he wishes to perpetuate, is to recommend, in case after case, that another member of our community should be punished and punished hard.  They should go to prison for the rest of their life, or for 30 years, or for 20 years or for 10 years. 

That’s what experience as a prosecuting attorney means. That’s what it means in Georgia, and that’s what it means in Athens and Watkinsville, where I was first sworn into practice law by the Honorable Judge James Barrow in 1985. That is Deborah Gonzalez’ opponent’s experience, and that’s how he sees the job—to solve problems by demanding prison, jail, probation. 

The window into his vision is in his skinny conception of a role for rehabilitation. It is for “first time, non-violent offenders.” In Georgia, shoplifting can be a felony, and the use of the smallest amount of any controlled substance other than marijuana is a felony. A person convicted twice of possession of painkillers, for instance, is, according to Chafin’s website, beyond rehabilitation. 

When we look at one another, we can see people with potential, or we can see people as one and done—one mistake and that’s it. Such is the work of an “experienced prosecutor” that he could promote his ability to see the potential for redemption in those who have made one mistake, but not in those who have made two. We should ask our elected officials for bigger and brighter vision.  At some point, we have to take a step back, look hard at what we are doing, and decide to make a fresh start.  

The system has plenty of ballast. Let’s give it some lift. Let’s elect Deborah Gonzalez, who takes a fresh look at the system, sees it wanting and has not been afraid to demand better. If you’ve watched any of the earlier debates for this office (when three candidates were on the ballot), you saw in Deborah a fierce and skilled advocate who has pledged to bring fresh experience to the task of prosecution, to revamp a criminal law system that very few people across the political spectrum think is working. If it were a business, it would be bankrupt.  That is why “experience” as an inside player is exactly the wrong qualification for the job. Let’s elect Deborah Gonzalez for district attorney.