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Forsyth County lawmakers visit with area Tea Party group

NORTH FORSYTH — On Monday night, the United Tea Party of Georgia welcomed two state lawmakers from Forsyth County to address a variety of issues that could arise in the 2016 General Assembly.

Among the topics Sen. Michael Williams and Rep. Sheri Gilligan covered were education, religious freedom and legalized gambling, which Williams said was unlikely to go anywhere this session despite some discussion.

“It didn’t have a lot of votes last year coming through the senate, and with it being an election year coming up, I don’t see it having enough votes this year,” he told the crowd gathered in the meeting room at Central Park.

“My feeling and my discussion with other Republican senators is that you’re going to hear more about this in the media than we’re actually going to talk about it.”

Teachers’ salaries also came up during the meeting, with Gilligan saying she was awaiting the final recommendation of a subcommittee tasked with looking into the matter.

According to the lawmaker, who took office after winning a special election this summer, the state is mulling whether to pay higher wages for certain positions to improve recruitment.

“The heaviest part of the calculation on how much salary you make in a public school is based on number of years and number of degrees,” Gilligan said. “A person that teaches for 10 years in the P.E. department and a person that teaches A.P. calculus are making the same salary if they have the same degree.

“That’s not something necessarily good. Because when you think about recruiting the higher level math and science instructors, it’s much harder to get them in that field.”

Both Gilligan and Williams will be up for re-election in 2016. With the campaign season approaching, each acknowledged the field of Republican presidential hopefuls.

Gilligan didn’t say who she might support, while Williams said he had a preferred candidate.

“I am the state co-chair of the Donald Trump campaign,” Williams said. “Whatever you think about Donald Trump, whether you like him or don’t like him, in my mind he is the only candidate that has the-you-know-whats to change the direction our country is going.”

Though many national issues popped up during the meeting, officials tried to stay on state matters. One that toed the line was immigration, especially giving drivers licenses to those who are living in the country illegally.

“When you renew your license, what do you have to take with you, birth certificates? … And [consider] that if you’re a married woman, or you’ve ever had a previous marriage, the fact that you have a different name than what was on your birth certificate,” Gilligan said. “All that I have to take.

“Do you not think that it torques me to no end that someone who is not here legally can just walk in and get [a driver’s license].”

Hitting closer to home was talk of whether the county commission should be elected on a countywide basis or by district.

Williams said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could play a role as a change would limit minority representation within the county, though there were other options.

“What we can do is add a countywide, at-large chairman and maybe even vice chairman, so we still have our districts, but add a couple of at large commissioners as well,” he said.

Under the present setup, the commissioners vote amongst themselves to determine a chair and vice chair, who serve in the posts for a year at a time.

What Williams has proposed appears to be a compromise between the commission’s current configuration and the pre-2010 version, in which commissioners had to live in the district they represented but were all elected countywide.

The current setup resulted from state legislation first applied in the commission races in 2010. The local delegation backed the move in 2009 after the results of a 2008 primary question.

Both the local Republican and Democratic parties had asked Forsyth voters that year if the county charter should be "revised to provide that county commissioners and school board members be elected by the voters in their respective districts.”

Nearly 86 percent of Democrats and nearly 73 percent of Republican voters said "yes."

The United Tea Party of Georgia is the result of a merger between the Forsyth County Tea Party Patriot Alliance with other area Tea Party groups in Cumming, Suwanee and Lawrenceville.

The next group’s next meeting in Forsyth is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at Central Park, off Keith Bridge Road.