The next primary election for Gwinnett County commission chairman is more than a year away, but there is already one candidate jumping in the race.
Former state Sen. Curt Thompson announced his plans to run as a Democrat for the seat during the Gwinnett County Democratic Party’s monthly meeting Thursday night. He’s the first person from either political party to formally announce a bid for the seat, which is currently held by Chairwoman Charlotte Nash.
“I’m running because we need to be building a bridge in Gwinnett to a brighter future — one that works for all of us in Gwinnett, not just some of us, not just those who have been here for a long time but all of us,” Thompson told his fellow Democrats. “We’ve got to make sure that bridge includes all of us.”
This could be the first of several announcements from candidates seeking the top elected office in Gwinnett County government. Nash has not indicated whether she will run for re-election next year, but there have been a few names of people in both parties who are rumored to be considering running for the seat.
Thompson is just the only one who has made it official so far.
After the Democratic Party’s meeting, Thompson said he decided to announce his candidacy early to give himself time to build up grassroots support. He pointed out that campaigns are getting started earlier and earlier now to build up their support bases.
“Partly that is the nature of campaigning these days,” Thompson said. “Also you’re talking about the second largest county in the state. There are over 900,000 people who live here and over 500,000 registered voters … If you’re running a grassroots campaign, you have to start early.”
The former legislator served in the state Senate for years until he was defeated by new state Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, during the 2018 Democratic primary. After that loss, his name began circulating as a possible candidate for commission chairman in the later half of last year.
He said he looked at running for the seat in 2016 but decided it was not the right time.. He changed his mind after Hillary Clinton won the county in the 2016 presidential race and Democrats then made major gains by winning several posts in 2018.
Thompson highlighted some of the proposals he’d like to pursue if he’s elected as chairman including a county-wide Wi-Fi internet network and putting a stipulation in place that no tax dollars could be used to pay for the Sheriffs Office’s participation in the federal 287(g) program.
The controversial 287(g) program allows Sheriff Butch Conway’s office hold undocumented residents who are arrested in the county’s jail for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“He’ll have to get the money from someplace else,” Thompson said of Conway.
Thompson also called for training of police officers on how to deal with minorities while also advocating for raising pay for police to prevent them from leaving for other law enforcement departments.
“I want to make sure that our police are trained for a modern police force with cultural sensitivity and de-escalation training,” he said. “We’ll be training, equipping and hiring so that our police force represents all of us and looks like all of us, and make sure they are well-paid because we’re not in an era where people stay in the same community.
“They’ll follow the job to Seattle, or they’ll follow the job to Philadelphia or they’ll follow the job to another community if we train them and then don’t pay them.”
He pledged to make sure the Connect Gwinnett Transit Development Plan is implemented as well. That ties into Gwinnett’s contract with MARTA, which voters will cast ballots on during the upcoming referendum on March 19.
Part of the county’s agreement with MARTA is that the transit system will use the Connect Gwinnett plan to build out its service in the county.
“I will be fighting for you every day to make sure that — when we pass this referendum on March 19 — the Connect Gwinnett will be implemented and it will be a living breathing document so that we can look at the transit needs as our county grows and changes and make sure that all of us have opportunities all around the county for communities where we can live, work and play together,” Thompson told his fellow party members.