Republicans battle for vacant Georgia House seat in runoff election

Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton, both Republicans, are facing each other in a runoff election being held Tuesday. They will replace former state Rep. David Stover, who resigned earlier this year. Submitted photos.

Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton, both Republicans, are facing each other in a runoff election being held Tuesday. They will replace former state Rep. David Stover, who resigned earlier this year. Submitted photos.

Newnan-area voters will choose between two Republican candidates Tuesday in a runoff election that's become a referendum of sorts on House Speaker David Ralston.

Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton received the most votes in a special election earlier this month to replace former state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan.

Before leaving office, Stover was one of 10 Republican legislators who signed a resolution calling for Ralston to resign over his delaying of court cases in his legal practice. Singleton has fashioned himself as the anti-establishment candidate, picking up the baton from Stover in calling for Ralston to step down from his position as House speaker, the top job in the chamber.

An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News earlier this year found Ralston, a defense attorney and Blue Ridge Republican, frequently delayed criminal cases by claiming court dates interfered with his legislative duties when lawmakers weren't in session.

“The abuse of power and the bully tactics (Ralston) uses to control the other members of the House and to delay justice to those in the court system are both very valid reasons for him to resign and also don’t keep with Republican values,” Singleton said.

Sakrison, the daughter of a former state House Republican leader and congressman, is supported by prominent Republicans, including Ralston. Ralston donated $2,800 to Sakrison. Other Republican lawmakers donated at least $10,500 to Sakrison, and several lobbyists and statehouse special interests also donated to her campaign.

Singleton received $500 from state Rep. Emory Dunahoo, a Gillsville Republican.

Sakrison, a first-time candidate, said Ralton’s support won’t sway her votes if she is elected.

“Speaker Ralston, I believe, is supporting me because the person who was in the seat before me voted no to just about everything — and the guy running against me has essentially pledged to do the same,” she said. “The speaker is not supporting me because I am going to be his pawn. I’m going to represent House District 71.”

It’s been a bitter battle heading into Tuesday’s election, with each candidate having to answer to the other’s highly charged accusations.

Singleton, a U.S. Army veteran and commercial pilot, has denied accusations that he tried to run as a Democrat or independent candidate last year when he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson. He lost the Republican primary, getting about 26% of the vote.

Sakrison — an educator and daughter of former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland — has denied claims that she supports an expansion of MARTA into Coweta County, something that is not being seriously considered.

Singleton was the top finisher in the Sept. 3 election, securing about 37% of the 5,004 votes cast. Sakrison got about 34%. Since neither won a majority of the ballots cast, a runoff is required.

Singleton said after his loss to Ferguson last year that he didn’t know if or when he would run for office again.

He said after Stover announced his resignation, he knew he wanted a “principled conservative” to take his place.

“I don’t have a master plan,” Singleton said. “Every time an opportunity opens itself up, (the family prays) about it and we decide if we think that’s where God is leading us to go.”

The Sharpsburg resident said his priority if elected would be shrinking government.

“A tremendous amount of our problems would be solved if we found ways to reduce government and reduce spending,” he said. “We would see more growth in the private sector.”

Sakrison said as a private school teacher, she’s seen a need for better access to mental health care.

“There are not a lot of child psychologists around,” the Newnan resident said. “It would help in the community in general and help down the road with law enforcement. Because how we handle mental health now determines who they’re going to be one day as adults.”

Democrats had hoped the district, that includes parts of Coweta and Fayette counties, had shifted enough to give them a shot at flipping Stover's seat. But the lone Democrat in the special election, Jill Prouty, came in third place with about 22% of the vote.

Singleton outperformed Sakrison in both of the district’s counties. While the bulk of the district is in Coweta, it includes a much smaller slice of Fayette County, where Prouty pulled in more than half of the nearly 350 votes cast.

Before becoming a teacher, Sakrison worked in the Georgia Senate research office and for former Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson.

But she said that was more than 15 years ago. After the birth of her oldest daughter, who is now 15, Sakrison spent a few years as a stay-at-home mother before she began teaching.

“All I consider myself is someone who has worked in politics before, but I wouldn’t consider myself an insider,” she said. “I haven’t been down there in 16 years. I’ve been raising a family.”