On Thursday, the Gordon County Republican Party gathered for a public forum as a part of their monthly GOP meeting where Jesse Vaughn and Matt Barton, both candidates for State House District 5, answered topical questions.

Following the results from Election Day on Jan. 8 – where Vaughn finished with 33.72 percent of the votes and Barton received 23.15 percent – a runoff election was set for Feb. 5.

Moving forward with their campaigns, Vaughn and Barton both attended a local Republican Party meeting last week to further explain their platforms. Topics of questions included religious freedom, taxes, education, casino gambling, prison reform, fracking and medical marijuana.

Matt Barton

Local Gordon County native, Matt Barton, 46, is a business man who has 10 years of prior experience in the political sector. As the owner of a medical transport and delivery service, Barton previously served on the Calhoun City Schools Board of Education as well as the Calhoun City Council.

At Thursday's forum, Barton said he was also in favor of giving teachers raises, keeping taxes low, maintaining religious freedom and against legalizing casino gambling.

"I think (legalizing gambling) is a slippery road and it can increase crime and unwarranted things in the area," Barton said. "I wouldn't be in favor of that, at least not at this time."

Barton views medicinal marijuana in the same light, saying if it's legalized in the state, it would have to be heavily regulated.

When the candidates were asked about their opinions regarding fracking, Barton said from his understanding, Georgia was a good location for fracking, but he appreciated the work the late Rep. John Meadows did on regulating fracking.

Barton is supported by his wife and two daughters during his campaign and pledges to continue to educate himself through training the state may offer or personal political research if elected to the House.

"I want to serve our community in this district," said the conservative Gordon Central graduate, who refers to himself as "a financial tightwad." "I'll be there for you, and I'm always able to reach. I'll be there to keep your taxes low and keep the government out of your hair."

Jesse Vaughn

When Meadows died in November, opening up a seat in the Georgia House, Jesse Vaughn, 45, was contacted and asked to run by the Meadows family, community members and even Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, he said.

Following this "calling" to run for House, Vaughn believes his career as a lawyer gives him an edge on the other candidates and would qualify him to be an excellent representative for the house.

Vaughn is passionate about being pro-life, pro-Georgia and pro-America. The lawyer also said at the forum that he is for religious freedom, for lowering taxes, giving teachers raises and against legalizing casino gambling.

"We need to protect our property owners and our beauty but also help the environment," Vaughn responded to a question on fracking. "It's much better to have a thoughtful set of rules in place to say there absolutely can't be any fracking or have no rules and just let it be the wild west."

Vaughn, a longtime friend of the Meadows family, admires the work Meadows did to regulate fracking in the area, he said.

Also during the forum, Vaughn expressed similar views as Barton regarding marijuana, that while it might be useful for medical purposes, it would have to be heavily regulated if legalized in Georgia.

"I have been a lawyer here for 20 years and in that I have worked to help people solve their problems," Vaughn said. "Honestly I think that's the biggest part of a state representative's job and that's what I love to do."

In summary

After the forum was concluded, Barton and Vaughn commented on how they felt about their answers and their campaigns moving forward.

Barton thought the forum went well from his perspective, and though some of his answers were shorter than Vaughn's, he prefers to be straight to the point.

"I'm more of a short and sweet kind of guy. I don't like to elaborate too long," said Barton, commenting on how the first part of the election seemed to fly by but now it's slowing down with only two candidates left in the race.

Vaughn also felt the forum went well and he is happy to still be in consideration for the seat. Though he is excited, he also knows there is still a long ways to go until the Feb. 5 runoff election.

"We know Feb. 5 is a new day and we've got to continue working and reaching out to people, connecting to people and getting across that finish line," Vaughn said. "We have a canvassing plan we're implementing to go around and talk to people (in the district)."

Gordon County Commissioner Becky Hood, who is friends with both of the candidates, has stayed up to date on the special election even though she doesn't live in District 5 and will not be able to vote on Feb. 5.

"I thought Jesse's answers were wonderful. He has a lot of history and he gets the business (of politics)," Hood said. "I thought in that forum, Jesse was the clear winner."

As an elected politician heavily involved in Gordon County, Hood encouraged voters to do their research before voting in the runoff.

"I would say the citizens need to look closely at the votes that have been made by the candidates, I would take a close look at their life choices, things they've done for the community and their relationships with state representatives," Hood said.

Those eligible to vote in the special election runoff on Feb. 5 must be registered in the following precincts: 1055 Plainville, 1064 Oostanaula, 1054 Sugar Valley, 980 Resaca, 1063 Pine Chapel, 849-A County/Belmont, 849-B City of Calhoun and 856 Lily Pond.

Also, only the voters in the 973 Red Bud and 1056 Sonoraville precincts who live in House District 5 can vote in the special election. The Oakman and Fairmount voting precincts are not included in the special election.