It was not the victory by the 33-year-old Washington County native in last week’s election to select a new District Attorney for the Ocmulgee Circuit that was surprising; what was surprising was the margin of his win.
When the votes were tallied, T. Wright Barksdale III defeated Carl Cansino in the June 9 Republican Primary Election with a margin of more than 81 percent. In Jones County, that margin was 89.5 percent.
No democratic candidate qualified to run for the office, which means Barksdale will take office as the Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Jan. 1.
It has been 26 years since Jones County was the home of the District Attorney for the Ocmulgee Circuit, which covers the counties of Jones, Baldwin, Greene, Hancock, Morgan, Putnam and Wilkinson, and is the largest circuit in the state.
Barksdale has lived in Jones County since 2014. The Jones Countian who previously held the position was Joseph Harris Briley, who resigned from the office in 1994 after serving in the position for more than 20 years.
Barksdale said he never anticipated winning by such a large margin, but he attributes the win to a lot of hard work and a tremendous amount of support. He said he ran the race seven days a week and expressed appreciation for the support he received from law enforcement, especially Gray Police Chief Adam Lowe, Jones County Sheriff Butch Reece and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills.
“Clifford Pennington in Wilkinson County worked hard, and there were people like that across the eight counties,” Barksdale said. “I have no doubt that’s why I won.”
He said he was proud of the success in Jones County.
“It was a county we had to have,” he added.
The new DA said he felt like his supporters stood up and made their voices heard.
“I’m happy to bring a victory to the people of Jones County. It’s a wonderful county,” he said.
Barksdale said he looks forward to working with law enforcement and will be depending on them to help him be the district attorney the circuit needs going forward.
“I hope to continue to foster a good relationship,” he said. “They have a tough job.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the criminal caseload in the circuit. He said it has already doubled, and if court does not open soon, the caseload will be tripled.
Barksdale said his first task with the election behind him would be to get that caseload under control, and in the near future he will be meeting with the current District Attorney, Stephen Bradley, whose term ends December 31.
Barksdale has until Jan. 1 to be ready to oversee the district attorney’s offices in eight counties, more than 30 employees, and all the administrative work that goes with it. He said he also wants to try several cases a year.
Barksdale said he plans to keep his residence in Jones County.
“I’ve lived in Middle Georgia all my life, and I love the people in this area. I love the school system in Jones County and plan to raise my children here,” he said.
He began his career as an assistant district attorney in the Ocmulgee Circuit in Jones County in 2013, and his wife Katie and their three children moved here in 2014. He took over the duties of prosecutor in Putnam County in 2015 and has handled both Putnam and Hancock counties since 2017.
Barksdale said he made no secret of the fact that he someday wanted to be District Attorney. The events that fell in place for that to happen were unexpected.
Ocmulgee Circuit Chief Judge William Prior Jr. announced in January that he would not be qualifying for another term. Prior is finishing his 39 th year on the bench, but his retirement was still unexpected.
Following that announcement, District Attorney Stephen Bradley declared his intention of running for the judge position vacated by Prior.
Barksdale said he vividly remembers the way he found out about Bradley’s decision. He said he was working late on a Wednesday night and received a phone call from Sills on his way home.
He said Sills’s recommendation was simple.
“You need to get ready,” he said.
Barksdale said he would have run anyway, but Sills’s encouragement helped.
“This win is not a ‘me’, it’s a ‘we’ for all my supporters. Our neighbors kept our kids so both Katie and I could campaign, and they rode around with me to put out signs,” he said. “That means the world to me. We are very blessed.”
Barksdale said Cansino first declared his intention to run for the judge position and changed his mind and qualified for DA. He said they had a good working relationship before the election, and he expects that to continue. “Carl called last night and congratulated me. That was first class on his part,” he said. Barksdale said, as far as he knows, he is the youngest DA in the state, but he is surrounded by a lot of good people.
“I plan to use all the talents and experience in the Ocmulgee Circuit DA’s Office to make it the best in the state,” he said. “The services we are going to provide will be second to none.”