Special election to fill David Ralston’s seat heads to runoff

Sheree Ralston facing Johnny Chastain on Jan. 31 for north Georgia legislative seat
Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:20 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2023 at 8:57 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Sheree Ralston and Johnny Chastain are headed for a runoff after Tuesday’s special election to fill the House legislative seat once held by David Ralston, the powerful former House Speaker who died this past November.

The runoff will be held on Jan. 31, 2023.

Sheree Ralston, widow of the late speaker, received 45 percent of the vote, while Chastain came in with 39 percent, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Ralston died on Nov. 16 after an extended illness. The late lawmaker, who represented north Georgia’s House District 7, had previously announced he would not run for reelection as House speaker due to health challenges.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, a metro Atlanta Republican, automatically became interim House speaker on Ralston’s death. In December, Georgia House Republicans elected state Rep. Jon Burns as the permanent new speaker. Burns, who’s currently the House majority leader, will officially become the House speaker when the 2023 legislative session begins next week.

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Three other candidates were seeking to replace Ralston, including Justin Heitman; Brian Pritchard; and Richie Stone.

House district 7 includes Fannin and Gilmer counties and a portion of Dawson County.

Gov. Brian Kemp endorsed Sheree Ralston, who is the executive director of the Fannin County Development Authority, after her announcement that she was entering the race.

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Ralston was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002 after spending six years in the Georgia Senate during the 1990s. He ran for attorney general in 1998, losing to Democrat Thurbert Baker.

Highlights of Ralston’s time as a speaker include his backing of the largest state income tax cut in Georgia history; a $900 million transportation funding bill that has helped the state plug a backlog of infrastructure improvements; and the first-ever paid parental leave policy for teachers and state employees.

Most recently, Ralston led the way to passing legislation that overhauled Georgia’s mental healthcare system.