April 26, 2019 - Lawrenceville - District Attorney Danny Porter watches as assistant district attorney Lisa Jones presents autopsy photos to the jury. The prosecution continued it's case in the third day of the Tiffany Moss murder trial. Moss, who is representing herself, is accused of intentionally starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter Emani to death in the fall of 2013. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Gwinnett’s longtime DA considering running as a Democrat in 2020

Longtime Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter says he’ll run for reelection one more time in 2020 — and he’ll consider doing it as a Democrat.

“I am gonna run,” Porter told the AJC on Thursday afternoon. “And if I'm gonna run, my plan is to run however gives me the best chance of success.”

Porter was first elected as Gwinnett’s top prosecutor in 1992, running as a Republican then and all six times he’s been reelected since — though he has not had an opponent since his inaugural campaign.

That’s all but certain to change in 2020, with at least one candidate, Democrat and local attorney Wesley Person, already having announced intentions to run. And while Porter believes the job should be a nonpartisan position to begin with, he’s well aware of Gwinnett County’s rapidly shifting politics. 

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Democratic candidates have dominated recent elections in Gwinnett from presidential races on down. Hillary Clinton won Gwinnett in 2016 (as did Porter), but the tide really turned blue last November: Stacey Abrams took Gwinnett by a significant margin in the governor’s race; Democrats flipped Gwinnett’s state legislative delegation; and the county commission got its first Democrats in three decades

Longtime Gwinnett County solicitor Rosanna Szabo, a Republican, also lost her job to relatively unknown Democrat Brian Whiteside.

Republican Gwinnett leaders like Commission Chair Charlotte Nash have become increasingly accepting of more liberal approaches to certain issues, including mass transit and homelessness. But Porter switching parties would mark the first high-profile defection.

“Everyone has to make decisions like that for themselves,” said Nash, who has not said publicly if she’ll seek re-election in 2020. “However, Danny Porter is a fine District Attorney and will continue to serve Gwinnett well as long as he is in office.”

To be clear, Porter said the decision about which party banner he’ll run under in 2020 isn’t finalized yet. He’ll likely make the decision sometime this summer after consulting with “the folks that I rely on.”

But there are things he still wants to do, he said — and he has to figure out how to put himself into the best position to do them.

Porter recently finished prosecuting a death penalty case, a concept that generally jibes with more conservative politics. 

But he was quick to point out Thursday that his office also helps run a pre-trial diversion program and accountability courts for folks like first-time drug offenders and veterans.

Porter said he wants to expand those offerings, including finding a way to make diversion programs — which involve paying significant fees — more accessible to a wider range of people.

“I don’t know the difference between a Democratic prosecutor and Republican prosecutor,” he said.

Bianca Keaton, chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, said the party will always embrace candidates “who reflect Democratic values” — and Porter will have to prove he does that.

“As a voter, I’ll be looking for him to share where he stands on reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration,” Keaton said. 

“Will he make an effort to assess and directly address the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system?”

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