A Powerful and Respected Leader
David Ralston, the Georgia House Speaker who had served in the position since 2010, died on Wednesday, November 17, 2022, at the age of 68. His spokesperson, Kaleb McMichen, announced his death in a statement that said he had succumbed to “an extended illness” (according to CBS News).
Ralston was a lawyer from the north Georgia mountains who had a long and distinguished career in public service. He was first elected to the Georgia Senate in 1992 as a Democrat, but later switched to the Republican Party. He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1998, and then won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2002.
In 2010, he became the 73rd Speaker of the Georgia House, succeeding Glenn Richardson, who had resigned after a scandal and a suicide attempt. Ralston brought stability and civility to the House, and was widely respected by both parties for his ability to bring people together and find common ground. He was also known for his advocacy for mental health reform, rural development, and education funding.
A Sudden Announcement and a Swift Succession
Ralston’s death came less than two weeks after he had announced that he would not seek re-election as Speaker due to health concerns. He had said that he hoped to continue serving as a member of the House until his term ended in January 2023.
However, his condition apparently deteriorated rapidly, and he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife, Sheree, and two adult children.
According to the state constitution, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, became the acting Speaker until the end of the current term. She is the first female Speaker in Georgia history. On Monday, November 15, the House Republican caucus nominated Jon Burns of Newington to be the next Speaker when the new General Assembly convenes on January 9, 2023. Burns is a close ally of Ralston and has pledged to continue his legacy.
A Legacy of Service and Friendship
Ralston’s death has sparked an outpouring of tributes and condolences from across the political spectrum. Governor Brian Kemp ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until Ralston’s funeral, and said that his body would lie in repose at the Georgia Capitol. Kemp praised Ralston as “one of our state’s true giants” who “spent his career trying to lift others up and move our state forward” (according to New York Post).
Other lawmakers, colleagues, and friends also expressed their sorrow and admiration for Ralston. Democrat Calvin Smyre of Columbus, the longest-serving member of the House and a friend of Ralston’s, said that “a great pine tree has fallen in the Georgia House of Representatives” (according to CBS News). Jones, the acting Speaker, said that Ralston was “a model of civility” who “knew the awesome power of bringing people together” (according to New York Post).
Ralston’s death leaves a void in Georgia politics that will be hard to fill. He was a leader who shaped policies and laws that affected millions of Georgians. He was also a human being who touched many lives with his kindness and generosity. He will be remembered as a speaker who spoke for all Georgians.