Home A project of States Newsroom
Banker Johnny Chastain defeats Ralston widow in special election; N.E. Georgia House seat goes to runoff


Banker Johnny Chastain defeats Ralston widow in special election; N.E. Georgia House seat goes to runoff

Feb 01, 2023 | 8:53 pm ET
By Aaleah McConnell
Banker Johnny Chastain defeats Ralston widow in special election; N.E. Georgia House seat goes to runoff
State Rep.-elect Chas Cannon meets with lawmakers the morning after winning a special election for a south Georgia House district. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

North Georgia banker Johnny Chastain will be the newest Republican state representative from north Georgia, winning Tuesday’s runoff election and ending Sheree Ralston’s bid to succeed  her late husband in the House chamber.

House District 7 – which encompasses Blue Ridge, Ellijay and several surrounding communities in north Georgia – was led by late House Speaker David Ralston for the past two decades. Sheree Ralston had the backing of top state lawmakers, including current House Speaker Jon Burns.

Instead, the mantle is being taken up by Chastain, a deacon at Helping Hand Fellowship Church in Blue Ridge, who won the runoff election with about 53% of the vote and a 476-vote lead.

Banker Johnny Chastain defeats Ralston widow in special election; N.E. Georgia House seat goes to runoff
Sheree Ralston stood with her husband, the late Speaker David Ralston, when he unveiled his behavioral health bill in 2022. He often said she challenged him to take on the issue. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Ralston, who is also a Republican, came close to her opponent with about 47% of the 8,636 votes cast.

The two spared no expense in the contest to fill David Ralston’s seat. According to their last campaign contribution report, Ralston’s donations were upwards of $174,000. And Chastain’s donations totaled a little over $98,000.

“The odds and money we were up against were steep,” Chastain said on his Facebook page. “Many have requested a way to be able to pitch in. Thank you again for your votes and your support.”

 But even with party support and $3,000 from her husband’s campaign, Ralston fell short of the win. 

“While the outcome was not what we had hoped for, your faith and confidence in me is humbling and means more than you will ever know,” Ralston said.

She assured her would-be constituents that she will continue to fight for her community even though this election battle is over. 

“I plan on using my business career, my love of family, and my strong faith to make a positive impact on the future of our community,” Ralston said.  

Two other Georgia House seats were also on the ballot Tuesday. One of them will go to a Feb. 28 runoff after the seven-way contest for northeast Georgia’s House District 119 seat ended without a candidate snagging 50% of the vote. 

The seat became vacant once Danny Rampey, who won last year in the race to succeed longtime Republican Rep. Terry England, resigned after facing drug and theft charges. The abrupt vacancy in the conservative district in northeast Georgia attracted six Republicans and one Democrat. 

Holt Persinger, a Winder Republican and businessman, led by a razor-thin margin, receiving 121 more votes than GOP second-place finisher Charlie Chase, who is a Winder bail bondsman. But the two will have to go toe-to-toe in a runoff later this month.

Both looked ahead to their upcoming face-off after narrowly missing an outright win.

“Mark your calendars. I look forward to continuing to work hard to earn your trust and support so I can get to work for this district,” Persinger said.

His opponent offered a wry take on the election going to overtime.

“We had so much fun that we’re going to do it again,” Chase said.

Republican Charles H. “Chas” Cannon, who is the county administrator in Colquitt County, is the new representative for House district 172 in south Georgia. Cannon said he does not have any legislation on his radar yet, and says he plans on laying low until he gets a grasp of the daily scramble at the Capitol. 

 “My goal is to just sit and be quiet, take advice from senior legislators. Just try to listen and learn for a while,” Cannon told the Georgia Recorder at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Moultrie farmer Sam Watson Tuesday became the latest former state representative to win a promotion to state senator. Watson easily won a three-way race to succeed former state Sen. Dean Burke, a Bainbridge Republican who is now the chief medical officer with the state Department of Community Health. 

Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.