2 go to runoff for Georgia House seat of ex-speaker Ralston

January 4, 2023 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — The widow of former Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and a Blue Ridge banker will face off in a Jan. 31 runoff after none of five Republicans won a majority in a special election Tuesday to fill Ralston’s seat in House District 7.

Sheree Ralston of Blue Ridge, the executive director of the Fannin County Development Authority and Ralston’s widow, won about 45% of the vote, falling short of a required majority, according to unofficial totals.

Johnny Chastain, a Blue Ridge banker and Fannin County Development Authority member, won about 39% of the vote.

The seat covers Fannin and Gilmer counties, and part of Dawson County in north Georgia.

Justin Heitman of Ellijay, a U.S. Navy veteran who manages Gilmer County’s airport, finished third. Conservative talk show host and media company CEO Brian Pritchard of Cherry Log finished fourth. Gilmer County Republican Party chair and filmmaker Richie Stone of Ellijay finished fifth.

Ralston has said she wants to continue her husband’s work to improve Georgia’s mental health system. Chastain campaigned on a pledge to abolish the state income tax.

David Ralston died on Nov. 16 at age 68, less than two weeks after he announced he was stepping down because of health concerns.

Ralston became Georgia state government’s second most powerful leader during his 13 years leading the 180-member House. Republicans have nominated Jon Burns of Newington to replace Ralston. Burns is likely to officially become the chamber’s leader when the newly elected General Assembly convenes Monday.