Two Republican candidates challenging for the District 24 state House seat took part in a debate this week.
On Monday, April 25, the Forsyth County Republican Party hosted a debate for Republican candidates at the Forsyth County administration building. The debate was attended by challengers Carter Barrett and Ed Solly, while incumbent state Rep. Sheri Gilligan submitted a statement but said she could not attend due to a scheduling conflict.
The Republican candidates for the seat will face off in the May 24 primary, and the winner will face Democrat Sydney Walker in November.
During the debate, candidates gave opening and closing statements and alternated giving the first answer to debate questions.
All debates will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be held on:
• Thursday, April 28; Forsyth County Commission District 1; Forsyth County Republican Party Headquarters, 510 Lake Center Parkway, Ste. 103;
• Tuesday, May 3; state House District 100, Forsyth County Republican Party Headquarters.
At the beginning of the debate, GOP Chairman Jerry Marinich read a statement from Gilligan, a former intelligence officer who was first elected to the seat in 2015, saying she “had a scheduling conflict and could not attend.
“I have had the honor and privilege of serving in the state House for seven years, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to serve my community as your representative,” Gilligan said in the statement. “Just as I promised in my first campaign, I have taken Forsyth County values to the capitol, not brought Atlanta values to Forsyth County.”
In her statement, Gilligan pointed to several legislative items passed this year, such as banning critical race theory from schools, constitutional carry for firearms, banning mask mandates and reducing taxes.
“As a founding member of the Georgia Freedom Caucus, I helped usher in the most conservative legislative agenda to ever pass the general assembly,” Gilligan wrote.
Marinich said he invited Gilligan to the debate but did not receive a response that there was a conflict until it was “too late to change the date.”
Public education, books in libraries and what students are taught have been a hot-button issue in the state during the most recent legislative session.
In the debate, the candidates were asked about the school budget, which makes up 40% of the state budget.
Solly, a district manager for Extra Space Storage Inc., and founder of the Concerned Parents of Forsyth County Facebook page, said schools had not been a focus in recent years at the Capitol except to ask for funding and said he was a supporter of school choice, which would allow education funds to follow students rather than immediately going to public schools.
“We have created a monopoly that goes far beyond, what the founders could have ever imagined,” Solly said. “Public schools control every single state in this country. The teachers’ unions control the federal government, we hear about it day in and day out. That’s where we need things like school choice.”
At this point, we have gone too far down the rabbit hole to try and go back. We have got to give parents the option to take their kids and educate them as they see fit.”
Barrett, a North Atlanta Market President with Affinity Bank, said he was accustomed to looking over budgets and, while there were problems with schools in the state, he didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in Forsyth County.
“We definitely need to fix the things that need fixing, CRT is a foregone conclusion. Inappropriate materials in our libraries, a foregone conclusion,” Barrett said. “Those have got to be fixed. I’d like to see us develop and devote more of our resources to our great pathways program locally.”
In the past 30 years, Forsyth County has been among the fastest-growing counties in the country, growing from about 44,000 residents in 1990 to more than 250,000 today. The Atlanta Regional Commission has projected that the county could double its population by 2040.
Both candidates were asked what they would do to deal with the coming growth to the county and the impact new residents would have on transportation.
They were also asked if they supported the expansion of MARTA, which Barrett said he didn’t believe was realistic and Solly said the county was too expansive for public transportation in the near future.
Barrett touted that he had relationships with Forsyth County Manager Kevin Tanner and District 11 state Rep. Rick Jasperse, who are the former and current chair of the state House transportation committee, and GDOT regional commissioner Rudy Bowen, which he said would be critical for completing projects.
“There are approximately $860 million in projects that are identified and we will need in Forsyth County,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of dangerous roads. Not just crowded roads, but dangerous roads in this county. [There are] 53,000 children in our school system, and everywhere you go there is a steep shoulder, and when kids are texting and driving and go off the side of the road, they’re probably going off a steep embankment into the woods, and that’s a terrifying thing.”
In his response, Solly said that Forsyth was fortunate to be a place that people wanted to move to and along with allowing Georgia Tech graduates to implement traffic plans for the area, another measure to reduce traffic would be to encourage companies to have employees work from home.
“That’s something that we’ve seen really take off,” Solly said. “The government needs to invest into more broadband access because the more broadband access you have in rural communities, the more people can work from home, be just as effective and they’re not getting on the roads, putting themselves at risk and they’re not clogging the roads with traffic.”