Candidates in the Runoff Election answer pressing questions from FoCo voters

Justine Lookenott
The Forsyth County Republican Party held a State House Runoff Candidate Forum on Wednesday, June 15(Image by Justine Lookenott)

(Forsyth County, GA) High-density development, school choice and traffic issues were just some of the topics discussed at the Republican State House Runoff Candidate Forum held Wednesday, June 15 at the Forsyth Conference Center.

Hosted by the Forsyth County Republican Party and the Forsyth County Young Republicans, the forum included the following candidates for the June 21 General Primary Runoff Election:

State House 28: Brent Cox and Julie Tressler

State House 24: Carter Barrett and Sheri Gilligan

The public was able to submit questions both before and during the event.
The Forsyth County Republican Party held a State House Runoff Candidate Forum on Wednesday, June 15(Image by the Forsyth County Republican Party)

Mike Valdes, the Republican nominee for District 5 on the Board of Education, moderated the State House District 28 forum. Kevin Bell moderated for the State House District 24 forum.

Reading a statement from Tressler, Valdes announced that she was unable to attend the event last minute due to suffering a concussion from a fall the night before.

“If you know who Julie is you know she is not entirely happy with having to stay home and wants to be with her supporters and of course all Forsyth conservatives as this runoff is nearing the finish line. She thanks you for your prayers and assures you she is ready, willing and able to serve District 28.”

State House District 28

Cox opened up the State House District 28 forum with a prayer for Tressler’s recovery before Valdes read out the submitted questions.

Election fraud, school board power, school choice, immigration, tax breaks for businesses, mental health and the economy were among the many topics Cox was able to cover during his allotted time.

A common theme appeared in many of Cox’s answers to these questions - his belief in “less government,” or in respecting the authority of local governments to make decisions for their communities.

What are your views on high-density development and the ongoing traffic issues in Forsyth County?

With the exploding population growth in the County, high-density development is a major concern for many locals.

Staying true to his belief in small governments, Cox said he believes most of the power concerning local development should fall into the hands of the local government.

“There's absolutely nothing that we should be doing to tell the County what they need to do from the state level,” Cox said. “I am in support of the County making the decisions, not the state.”

As for the issue of how to quickly alleviate the extreme traffic congestion locals continue to battle on the roads, he suggested that reducing the number of large trucks on major thoroughfares could help a little but wouldn’t immediately solve the problem.

“Nothing is going to be accomplished quickly,” Cox said. “…we basically have massive quantities of homes and people, people want to move here because it's a great place. But our infrastructure has not caught up.”
Candidate Brent Cox answers questions from the audience at the Republican State House Runoff Election Candidate Forum on June 15(Image by Justine Lookenott)

What are the most important issues you think Forsyth County faces today?

Having spent over a decade coaching high school football, youth mental health is something that remains very important to Cox.

“Number one for me is mental health for teenagers,” Cox said. “That's by far the thing I'm most concerned about because I'm concerned about their lives.”

The effect the shaky economy has had on the County is also something of concern to him.

“This has changed somewhat since we started running but the economy has become a significant problem,” Cox said. “Our gas prices, our big costs, all these things with the economy is very important and making sure that we as a government are… being very fiscally conservative and responsible with our money.”

With the current push for gun control laws, why is the Second Amendment important?

The two mass shootings that occurred recently have given a renewed strength in calls for stricter gun laws.

Cox describes himself as an “old school North Georgian” when it comes to the Second Amendment.

"To me, it's a constitutional right just like the First Amendment...let me just be honest, I personally, I own AR-15s,” Cox said. “And why? Because I can and I think it's important.”

Cox believes teachers have the right to carry firearms but ultimately said that schools needed to be secured to make sure these events don’t happen.
The General Primary Runoff Election is on June 21(Image by Forsyth County Government)

State House District 24

While Gilligan and Carter were heavily united in their support for school choice, there was some heated debate when development in the County.

What are your views on high-density development and the ongoing traffic issues in Forsyth County?

The massive growth the County has experienced was named by Carter as a reason he is running for the State House.

“I've watched the growth,” Carter said. “I've helped channel some of the many good things that have happened here. But I have great concerns about the future of this community if we aren't very thoughtful and very deliberate about how we grow from here.”

Back in 2005, Carter said he led a “year-long visioning project” for the community. This type of project is something he believes the County needs to do again.

“I don't believe in high-density development,” Carter said. “The purpose of my running is to make sure that we are preparing for the future, we're planning for a future that makes us a great place. It's a beautiful place and we’re happy to be here.”

Gilligan also believes high-density development is a problem for the County.

“[It] threatens to turn us into the next Gwinnett County,” Gilligan said. “High-density development has caused our taxes to increase, crowded our roads and our schools and driven our local government into debt. As a state rep., there's not a whole lot that we can do to stop this growth. That's the job for our County Commission.”

While the two candidates have the same overall views concerning the topic, disagreements came when Gilligan said that Carter was supported by two commissioners (Todd Levent from District 3 and Cindy Mills from District 4) she said had allowed high-density development into the County.

Carter responded in support of the two commissioners, saying he did not “disavow” either of them.

“I think building rapport and relationships with our commissioners is important,” Carter said. “Sometimes it takes time, takes effort. We've got to knock down some walls and learn how to communicate well, but I don't disavow them.”
Candidates Sheri Gilligan and Carter Barrett debate at the Republican Runoff Election Candidate Forum on June 15(Image by Justine Lookenott)

If you could pass one piece of legislation, what would it be?

Gilligan had no hesitation when she said school choice was the top legislation she wanted to get passed.

“Right now, we have thousands of Georgia students in failing schools,” Gilligan said. “It’s unconscionable to leave these children in [these] 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.”

Carter said the question was tough to answer, saying he wanted to improve the quality of life in Forsyth County by making better schools, infrastructure, amenities and by creating a “vibrant economy.”

“My top priority is to the people in this room and the citizens of this County,” Carter said. “So being a great advocate for people in this community, going to the Capitol, and representing you guys with will and vigor and help bring your resources back in this community.”

The General Primary Runoff Election is on June 21.

For information on how to vote, visit the Forsyth County Department of Voter Registrations & Elections Department website.

If you have a new tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at

To learn more about elections in Forsyth County, read “The May 2022 Forsyth County election results are here.

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I cover local news in Forsyth County, GA. My debut into the writing world began at the age of 10 when I won an essay contest in Around Acworth Magazine in which I wrote about spending the summer with my pet goat, Eclair. Since graduating from Kennesaw State University, I have been published in several newspapers and magazines in the Atlanta area including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta School Guide, What Now Atlanta, Newcomer Magazine, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Cherokee Tribune.

Forsyth County, GA

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