A debate to be one of the next lawmakers to represent Forsyth County got heated at times as the candidates traded barbs.
On Tuesday, Incumbent Sheri Gilligan and challenger Joanna Cloud — Republican candidates for the District 24 state House seat — faced off in a debate held by the Forsyth County Republican Party at the Forsyth County Administration Building. Forsyth GOP Chairman Patrick Bell moderated the debate.
In addition to answering questions from Bell, each candidate was given an opportunity for an opening and closing statement and to ask one question of their opponent.
Advance voting for the May 22 primary began last week.
Gilligan, a retired intelligence analyst, was first elected to the seat in a special election in 2015 and serves as a member of the House’s budget and fiscal affairs oversight, human relations and aging, natural resources and environment, code revision and science and technology committees.
Cloud, a graduate of Georgia Tech, worked for more than 20 years in software development before taking over the Lake Lanier Association, which advocates at the local, state and federal level for residents of the lake.
Favorite Republican principle
Bell began the debate by asking each candidate which Republican principle they felt was the most important.
“I so endorse all of the Republican platform and principles,” Gilligan said. “What I love the most is that Republican principle definitely stands for smaller, limited government, fair and free market practices, fiscal prudence, individual liberty. And how do you wrap all that into one? It’s impossible to divide them, quite honestly.”
Cloud said she supported the economic policies of the party.
“I would say free market enterprise,” she said. “If it’s implemented correctly, I think everything else flows from that. If you do the free market part right … you don’t need a larger government, and you don’t need as much in the way of taxes.”
The candidates butted heads in the debate when Gilligan asked Cloud to clarify previous comments she made that Gov. Nathan Deal had used a line-item veto to remove funds for a proposed expansion of the University of North Georgia’s Cumming campus from the state budget.
“The governor has recently signed the 2018 budget, and when he did, he did not strike a single line in that budget. That means he did not issue a line-item veto,” Gilligan said. “Since you have repeatedly stated the governor did indeed issue a line-item veto that hurt our district, I need you to set the record straight and tell me how just indeed how was it that something that was never put on the governor’s desk vetoed?”
Cloud said the money had been announced at a local gathering in late March attended by about 600 locals, including elected officials.
“It was announced and celebrated that there was a $6 million expansion that had been approved by the [state] Senate and House,” she said. “That was the last day of session. The following week, that particular item was struck in the budget and we did not have that $6 million investment in our community at this point.”
Cloud later referenced the matter again in her closing statement.
Candidates were also asked how the state overall could improve schools statewide.
Cloud said she favored more local input in the system and praised Forsyth County Schools’ Strategic Waivers School System (SWSS/IE2) contract with the state Board of Education, which gives the system flexibility to operate outside of certain state laws, rules and guidelines in exchange for greater accountability for student performance.
“I like local control and I like how in Forsyth County when we passed the IE2 original program, it gave us so much more flexibility in terms of our curriculum, and I think that that has been a great benefit to our school system,” Cloud said. “I think we need to lead the state in some of these initiatives and push that example out.”
Gilligan said she favors removing Common Core standards and also favoring more local control.
“We need to pull out of the Common Core. Calling it ‘Georgia Standards of Excellence’ is not getting rid of Common Core,” Gilligan said. “We need to put the teachers back in control of the classroom. We need to put parents back in control of the students. That’s what’s going to matter, and we have great facilities. We have great teachers, and they are hamstrung by this horrible, horrible curriculum that was driven to us from the federal government.”