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State House District 24 candidates hold debate after heated campaign season
District 24

The race for the District 24 state House seat has been heated over the last few months, but the candidates recently had a chance to talk face-to-face.

On Wednesday, June 15, the Forsyth County Young Republicans and the Forsyth County Republican Party hosted a debate between incumbent Rep. Sheri Gilligan and challenger Carter Barrett, where the candidates answered pre-submitted and audience questions. 

Gilligan, who earned about 49.7% of the total votes, and Barrett, who received about 42% of the total, were the top vote-getters in a three-candidate primary in May that also included candidate Ed Solly. 

The candidates will face off in a runoff on Tuesday, June 21, and the winner will face Democrat Sydney Walker in November.


Pushing back

The race for District 24 has been especially heated, and during the forum, both candidates pushed back against what they said were falsehoods about them and their campaigns. 

Gilligan, a retired intelligence analyst who was first elected to the seat in 2015, said there had been several untrue statements spread about her during the campaign, including that she was not supportive of veterans due to her not voting on House Bill 1064, a military retirement tax exemption bill.

“One of the lies is that I don’t support veterans,” Gilligan said. “I’m a veteran, my husband is a veteran, my stepfather is a veteran, stepchildren are veterans, one is currently actively serving and one is an active Air Force pilot, and, somehow, I don’t support veterans because I supposedly walked on a bill.

“Well House Bill 1064 would give me a direct personal benefit, so ethically, I was not eligible to vote for that.” 

Barrett, a local banker, said he has also faced accusations that he is in favor of high-density developments, which he denied. 

“Y’all probably may not realize that I’m not actually the king of high-density development,” Barrett said. “I’ve never developed a neighborhood in my entire life. I’ve never financed a neighborhood in my entire life. I’ve been a banker for 35 years, and have never financed a development.”




Proposed legislation 

During the debate, both candidates were asked what legislation they would like to carry in 2023 if elected. 

Gilligan said her main goal was for legislation for school choice, or having state funding follow students rather than public schools, allowing students to attend home school, private school or other options.

“Right now, we have thousands of Georgia students trapped n failing schools,” she said. “It’s unconscionable to leave these children in [those] schools, because, you see, for an economy to thrive, you need a workforce that can work, you need educated students, you have to break the cycle of poverty by getting them out of these failing schools. These state dollars need to follow these students.” 

Barrett said he was also in favor of school choice but, if elected, his goal was to “bring resources back” to Forsyth County.

“You see in our community we’re a big donor community,” he said. “Out of every dollar spent here, three pennies stay here, four pennies go [to the state]. On top of that, you pay a lot of income taxes. We’re a big donor community.

“I want to see us bring some of those critical resources back here to make the quality of our lives [better], better schools, better infrastructure, better amenities, a vibrant economy and, ultimately, unify-ing the Republican Party so we can win more elections and stop all of this crazy, painful nonsense that is going on.”


Government shutdowns and mask mandates

In the wake of the 2020 COVID pandemic, both candidates were asked their opinion on the state’s response to the pandemic and praised Gov. Brian Kemp for reopening the state in April 2020.

Gilligan said many early decisions during the pandemic were made in a “panic mode” and she was against any possible mandates from the government.

“We could no longer afford to be closed down, it was two weeks in Georgia that we were completely shut down, and look how long it has taken for us to come back and how much quicker we snapped back because of that decision,” Gilligan said. “But the mask mandates, the ‘you can’t work here unless you do things my way,’ that can never, ever be repeated.”

Similarly, Barrett said Kemp’s response to the pandemic was “masterful” and that he also did not support mask mandates

“I absolutely oppose mask mandates. If you want to wear 50 masks yourself, knock yourself out, but don’t tell me I have to. It’s your personal choice,” Barrett said. “I think the governor did a fantastic job. He has great intuition, I think. That’s why our state is no.1 in that nation for business, he got us back over it.”