Deborah Gonzalez’s runoff election win made her the first Latina to be elected a district attorney in Georgia, the first woman to serve as a district attorney in the Western Judicial Circuit and the first Puerto Rican woman in the U.S. to be elected a district attorney.
On Dec. 1, former H.D. 117 State Rep. Deborah Gonzalez won the runoff election against Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney James Chafin to become the Western Judicial Circuit’s next district attorney. Gonzalez earned 51.68% of the vote, according to official results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
Though Gonzalez is proud of this feat, she entered the western district attorney race with one goal in mind — to bring criminal justice reform to Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.
The Red & Black spoke with Gonzalez as she reflected on what it means to be the first Latina and woman in her new role.
The Red & Black: How has your Latinx culture and background influenced your upbringing and career?
Gonzalez: Well, it does, I mean, you're raised in this culture, right. So everything from the food that you eat, the music, the dancing and the family parties, there is this sense that family is number one. We need to watch out for each other and look out for each other and when people need help, you should be the one to say, “Okay, I'm there, I'm going to help you.” Then you combine that with the fact that I'm also what's called a military brat, my father was in the army when I was young… So when you combine the duty of family first and then that duty to serve that I get from my father in the military service, you can see why I sort of ended up where I ended up now in being a public servant.
The Red & Black: When running, did you ever have this goal of being the first woman and the first Latina in your position?
Gonzalez: I wasn't fighting to be the first of anything, I was fighting because I thought elected officials should be elected and that voters should have their right to vote. I ran not because I wanted to be the first Latina DA in Georgia, I ran because I wanted to bring criminal justice reform to my community. The fact that I end up being the first woman in this circuit, and the first Latina in Georgia, and the first Puerto Rican woman in the country is amazing. It's sort of gravy on top. But it's also sort of bittersweet because we're here in 2021 and we're only now having these wins for women and minorities.
The Red & Black: In your campaign, you said you put a focus on connecting with minorities within the community, why was that important to you now and in your new role?
Gonzalez: I feel that they are the voices that are not heard. They're sort of taken for granted… The only way that we can affect change in the system is by hearing from those who are in some way affected by it or have that lived experience… So for example, I was the only one who ever absolutely stated we have a problem with systemic racism. I'm going to continue to address it because that's why Black, Brown and poor people get so disproportionately affected. Listen, when there's been cases like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and those were all decisions made by prosecutors. We know that justice wasn't done in those cases. So that's what the community sees and is responding to and why they don't trust DAs and the only way that they are going to start to trust the system is by getting to know who the DA is.
The Red & Black: How are you hopeful to encourage other women and minorities to follow in your role?
Gonzalez: My message is to take a chance, right? Take a chance and get involved, learn about what's happening in your community, get to meet the elected official and get your mission and passion out there. Now being in my position that voters put me in shows other women that they too can aspire to that. There's this thing that says women won't run for office until they're invited so whenever I speak, I always say I am inviting every single one of you to run, you don't have to wait anymore. You don't have to wait for somebody to ask you. If you see that there's something going on in your community, you have the power to fix it by just saying, ‘I'm going to run,’ and even if you don't win, the fact that you've stood up and run and made that incumbent or made that other candidate actually have to defend why they should have that seat is a big value to the community. Because without it, we don't have important conversations.