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Local GOP series concludes with races for legislature

FORSYTH COUNTY — The fourth and final debate in the Forsyth County Republican Party’s series leading up to the May 20 primary was the best attended.

Nearly 150 people filled the commission room in the Forsyth County Administration Building on Monday night to see the Republican candidates for the District 24 state House of Representatives and District 27 state Senate posts.

The House hopefuls squared off first, with incumbent Mark Hamilton and Sheri Gilligan fielding several questions.

There were similarities between the two candidates, including their pro-life stance and opposition to the federal Common Core curriculum, However, there also were some major differences, including Hamilton's support of House Speaker David Ralston, who he considers a good friend under a "witch hunt."

Gilligan contended that the House needs "better leadership,” adding that the most important issue she's heard from voters is restoring the nation by "taking the fight down to the Capitol."

"The 10th Amendment is our friend," she said of the state sovereignty resolution. "The state should be our last, best hope."

Hamilton countered that his constituents have been more concerned with local issues, such as jobs, schools and roads.

"That's going to be my focus," he said. "These are the things people tell me are important to them."

Asked about term limits, Gilligan was in favor of them, while Hamilton said they were something voters should decide.

Gilligan asked for voters to choose her, saying she "could think of no higher honor than to be your voice."

Hamilton asked the same. "I've got a little bit of work left to do there and I'm going to work hard,” he said.

No Democrats qualified to run in November, so the primary next month will decide the contest. The same is true for the District 27 state Senate race, though a runoff election, if necessary, would be held July 22.

The absence of incumbent state Sen. Jack Murphy, who had to attend a previously announced legislative commitment, was noted Monday by both of his remaining challengers — Lauren McDonald III and Michael Williams.

A third opponent, Jack Schiff, announced last week that he was withdrawing from the race. Because of the timing of Schiff’s departure, however, his name will still appear on the ballot.

McDonald said he's "tired of the status quo. It's time to make a difference."

He pledged to fight to improve traffic because he feels the pain of the congestion as a longtime resident and someone who is "going to represent you."

According to Williams, people he’s talked with feel like there is a lack of representation, "like their voice isn't heard."

"I'm committed to being the most accessible state legislator out there," he said.

District 27 covers all of Forsyth County except the extreme northeastern corner, which is in District 51.

Both candidates said they support stronger ethics reform and changing the state's tax code while opposing Common Core. Williams said the state needs to "move more toward a consumption-based tax model."

"It makes us look at where we're spending our money," he added.

To McDonald, the change should start with abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, saying until a message is sent to Washington, D.C., "we're going to be stuck with what we have."

Williams said one of his greatest strengths will be his ability to listen. That's why he told voters he plans to go to the Capitol and "listen to my fellow legislators as well as you."

"I'm not a career politician." Williams said. "My goal is to represent you, the citizens of Forsyth County.”

McDonald said his previous service as county coroner and a firefighter, as well as raising a family in Forsyth, have given him deep roots in the county.

"We need to have a voice that works with local government, not micromanage it," he said. "I want to make sure I represent you all from here.”

The forum concluded the local GOP’s series, which also featured debates for District 26 state House candidates, District 1 Forsyth County Board of Education and solicitor general hopefuls, and a question/answer session on the school system’s bond referendum.

Advance voting for the primary opened Monday.