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Georgia House Speaker Ralston dies following extended illness

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – Georgia House Speaker David Ralston died Wednesday at the age of 68, just two days after the House Republican Caucus nominated a new speaker to succeed him in January.

Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, had been suffering an extended illness. His wife, Sheree, his children, and other members of his family were with him when he passed away, his office announced. Arrangements will be announced in the future.

Ralston announced early last week that he would not seek election by his House colleagues to another term as speaker, citing his health. Voters in the 7thHouse District in Northwest Georgia reelected him Nov. 8 without opposition.

At the time of his death, Ralston was the longest currently serving state house speaker in the nation.

As provided by the Georgia Constitution, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton, will serve as speaker for the remainder of the current term, which ends in January.

On Monday, House Republicans nominated Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, to succeed Ralston as speaker. The full House will vote on the nomination on the first day of the 2023 General Assembly session Jan. 9.

Ralston was elected speaker at the beginning of the 2010 legislative session. He already had served in the House since 2003.

He spent six years in the state Senate during the 1990s, leaving the General Assembly in 1998 in an unsuccessful bid for attorney general.

Political leaders who served with Ralston remembered him Wednesday as an effective leader who played a key role in the major legislation the General Assembly adopted during his tenure.

“Speaker Ralston was a pioneer in the growth of Georgia’s Republican leadership and leaves an indelible mark on this state,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “His last session as speaker will long be remembered for his landmark mental health reform bill, helping Georgians fight through inflation, and passing a historic income tax cut that puts more money in the pockets of taxpayers for years to come.

“We are also especially proud of our previous bipartisan efforts on reforming the citizens’ arrest law and adding an anti-hate crime statute to the Georgia code, which would not have happened without the speaker’s steadfast leadership. These historic accomplishments were only a handful of the numerous hallmarks of David Ralston’s decades-long service to Georgia.”

“Speaker Ralston was a steady, reliable guiding force under the Gold Dome in good times and tough times,” added state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who was elected majority leader by Senate Republicans last week. “He cherished the idea of his beloved House being a body that truly represented all of Georgia’s people, and he respected each of the elected members that comprised it, regardless of partisan differences. It takes a genuinely good heart and decent person to lead that way.”

Democrats, too, reflected on Ralston’s passing.

“Georgia Democrats join the entire state in mourning Speaker David Ralston,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party. “Speaker Ralston was a statesman who led with fairness and honesty, looked for common ground, and always put his commitment to Georgia first. … Speaker Ralston will be missed dearly – by those who agreed with him, and by those who often didn’t.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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