Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the longest-serving active speaker of a state house in the nation, died Wednesday afternoon. He was 68 years old.
In early November, Ralston announced he would not seek another term as House speaker, citing a health challenge. He was on the ballot last week and won re-election to another term representing House District 7, which includes Fannin and Gilmer counties and a portion of Dawson County.
He was the 73rd Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, a position he has held since 2010. He was the second-longest serving speaker in Georgia history
He was first elected to the Georgia House in 2002 and represented House District 7, which includes Fannin and Gilmer counties and a portion of Dawson County.
In 2022, Ralston led the fight for historic reform of mental health care in Georgia. Georgia’s Mental Health Parity Act and accompanying funding transforms both access to and delivery of mental health services and treatment options throughout the state.
District 29 Representative Matt Dubnik worked closely with Ralston and admired the late Speaker's ability to cross the aisle during legislative sessions.
"I think that's one of the things that that we will all remember fondly of him is his ability just to get it done," Dubnik said on WDUN's Newsroom, "and to put egos and agendas aside, reach across the aisle, reach across the building to the State Senate, to reach across to the second floor or governor's offices, or just reach out to one of us. It was about getting things done."
Dubnik said he and Ralston were part of a political committee that would meet remotely every Friday afternoon. Dubnik said although Ralston was suffering health issues, Ralston was still on the call three weeks ago.
"I called him right after it and told him I knew he had been sick and laying low," Dubnik said. "And I said, 'Brother, it's just so good to hear your voice and to hear you on here.' And we talked for eight or 10 minutes about particular races and my race and the upcoming session and he was positive and chipper. I just can't believe that in such a short amount of time he's gone."
A champion for job creation and economic development, Ralston was a driving force behind many legislative accomplishments which have made Georgia the #1 state in the nation for business year after year, such as Georgia’s Transportation Funding Act of 2015 and the state’s first-ever cut to the income tax rate in 2018.
Ralston worked with leaders in both parties to move Georgia forward through bipartisan legislation like Georgia’s comprehensive adoption reform in 2018 and the state’s first-ever paid parental leave policy for state employees and teachers in 2021.
Prior to serving in the House, he served in the Georgia State Senate from 1992 until 1998. In 2011, he was honored as “Georgian of the Year” by Georgia Trend Magazine. In 2018, he was honored by the Zell Miller Foundation with the Zell Miller Award for Distinguished Public Service.
Born in Ellijay, Ralston is a graduate of Gilmer County High School. He went on to attend Young Harris College and North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia), where he earned his bachelor’s degree with honors. He later received his law degree from the University of Georgia.
Ralston lived with his wife, Sheree, in Blue Ridge where he was a practicing attorney.
District 159 Representative Jon Burns, who was nominated as the next Speaker of the House, also expressed his grief for the late Ralston.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of Speaker David Ralston," Burns said in a release. "Georgia has lost a titan of our political world, and, more importantly, I have lost a dear friend. As a leader, Speaker Ralston was selfless and brave - always willing to place the good of Georgians ahead of his own personal gain. As a friend, he was fiercely loyal - always willing to provide wise counsel and support. Our state will miss him greatly. I will miss him always.”