3/11/19 - Atlanta - Charlotte Nash, chair, Gwinnett County Commission, answers questions related to the MARTA referendum, which would extend MARTA to Gwinnett County if it passes, at the Commerce Club in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday, March 11, 2019. The future of transportation for other counties was also discussed as the decision in Gwinnett is likely to impact how places like Fulton County carry out the potential for MARTA there. Early voting has been underway for the referendum with official voting day being March 19. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com

Amid a changing Gwinnett, Chairman Charlotte Nash won’t run in 2020

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash will not seek re-election in 2020 — a decision that could have significant implications for the already shifting political landscape of Georgia’s second most populous county.

Nash’s announcement Tuesday afternoon comes in the wake of a failed transit referendum for which she was the strongest advocate. And the Republican’s departure increases the chances of an evenly split county commission flipping to Democrats in the near future.

“I believe that it is time for me to focus on my family and to follow through on a promise I made to my husband that we will enjoy retirement together,” Nash wrote in a statement emailed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“For four decades, I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve, in one role or another, the place I have called home all my life. I know that I have been fortunate in that. To all those who have supported and helped me along the way, I say thank you.”

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Nash, a native of the Harbins area, worked in the Gwinnett County government for nearly three decades, serving in roles, including budget director and director of financial services, before retiring in 2004.

She was first elected to serve as commission chair in a 2011 special election, taking the reins amid the fallout from a county bribery scandal that ultimately resulted in three commissioners leaving office — two under indictment and the third, then-Chairman Charles Bannister, under the threat of one.

Nash was then re-elected in 2012 and 2016.

“While Chairman Nash’s leadership of the county will be most remembered in restoring the trust with the citizens of Gwinnett in the wake of elected officials’ misgivings,” said Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington, “her impact on Gwinnett goes much deeper.”

Warbington, a conservative who has often been pointed to as a potential Nash successor, credited her with ensuring Gwinnett’s continued financial stability.

Said Republican District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks, who has also considered running for chairman: “She is one of the smartest county leaders in this state, and I have learned an immense amount serving with her.”

Nash is known for her pragmatic approach to issues, and she was a strong advocate for March’s transit referendum. She even helped shape the legislation that enabled the county to call a vote on whether it should contract MARTA to provide commuter services.

She has openly suggested another transit referendum could be called in the near future, irking Gwinnett Republicans in the legislature.

It was unclear Tuesday what Nash’s retirement could mean for a future transit referendum.

Even with her strong record, Nash would’ve faced an uphill battle to regain her seat in 2020.

Democrats have dominated recent county elections, with a growing number of voters showing a willingness to vote for candidates with a “D” next to their name.

Just a few weeks ago, another high-profile Gwinnett Republican, District Attorney Danny Porter, said he was considering switching parties for his 2020 re-election bid.

In November, the five-member county commission got its first two Democrats in more than three decades.

One Democrat, former state Sen. Curt Thompson, has already announced plans to run for Nash’s seat.

“I thank Chairman Nash for her years of service and dedication to the county,” Thompson said in a statement released Tuesday. “I look forward to campaigning on building a bridge to a progressive future for all of Gwinnett.”

Nash, meanwhile, still has a year-and-a-half left in office. She said she’s looking forward to it — but she’ll miss the county staff and other local leaders she’s worked with when it’s over.

“There is a great deal of satisfaction in thinking about what we have accomplished together,” Nash said.

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