Monday November 28th, 2022 4:19PM

A Salute to the Speaker

By Bill Crane

Mr. Speaker...I rise to recognize the fine gentleman from the 7th District of Georgia (R-Blue Ridge)...spanning Fannin, Gilmer and parts of Dawson County. On a matter of personal privilege, I ask us all to give pause, and a moment of prayer for his wife, family, and many friends who are now grieving his all-too-early departure from Georgia and this world.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston was a lawyer, legislator, servant leader, loving father, and husband, as well as incredibly loyal friend. Not perfect, as none of us are, he was unusually courteous, kind, and civil in a political arena where all of those niceties are now lacking.

Until last week, he was the longest serving State House Speaker in the nation, and second in Georgia history only to Speaker Thomas B. Murphy (D-Bremen), this courtly, country lawyer from Blue Ridge wielded the gavel and power of his office with grace, patience, and a steady hand as well as an ear for the thoughts of members in both the Majority and Minority parties.

David Ralston loved the State House, beginning his legislative career in the Georgia State Senate in 1992. In 1997 he would make a run for Georgia Attorney General, and that is where we met and began a friendship now spanning a quarter-century. I was working on the gubernatorial campaign of former Attorney General Mike Bowers. Ralston was a supporter, and donor and had also endorsed the former A.G.

When a sex scandal involving a longtime extramarital affair engulfed our campaign, many donors asked for refunds, and several prominent elected officials withdrew their endorsements. Ralston was among the handful who hung with us and stayed the course. We would ultimately narrowly miss a runoff election with the GOP nominee in that cycle, businessman Guy Millner, and Ralston also did not win his race that fall, but his friendship and support never wavered. They don't make them like that anymore.

The Ralston legacy is long, strong, and still growing and includes conservative fiscal management, helping Georgia have among the highest bond ratings of all 50 states, a coming $6-billion budget surplus, a decade of rankings for Georgia as the Best State to Do Business, the first major investment in Behavioral and Mental Health Care in nearly 50 years, a reworking of Georgia's motor fuel excise tax to sustainably fund transportation, and correctly applying the brakes when more conservative members of his own party became intent on creating a city of Buckhead City, cleaved out of the City of Atlanta or placing Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, owned and built by the City of Atlanta, under State control.

In recent years, love and his wife Sheree Bradburn Ralston had brought back a sparkle in his eyes, more frequent smiles, and a bit of a bounce to his step.  Professionally, he ably served and worked closely with three Governors, Sonny Perdue, Nathan Deal, and Brian Kemp, and helped to bring their initiatives across the finish line, including tough but necessary and massive budget cuts during a steep recession, with state reserves reaching almost zero (Perdue); three-stage and multi-year reform of Georgia's Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice systems (Deal); and later significant pay, raises for all Georgia educators, state law enforcement professionals and most all state government employees (Kemp), as well as supporting the re-opening of Georgia's economy during the pandemic and also adhering to very strict protocols to protect members of the State House and their guests at the Capitol from contracting Covid19.

Friends will fill this and other spaces with remembrances for days and weeks to come. From Tuesday into Wednesday of this week, the Speaker will lie in repose under our State Capitol Rotunda. He will be the 36th Georgian so honored.

David Ralston was a big man who made a bigger impact and is perhaps not as well known as he should be for having a BIG heart. He was many things to Georgia, and to me, he was and is, an incredible friend. God bless House Speaker David Ralston, his wife Sheree Ralston, the people of Georgia's 7th District, and the thousands of others whose lives he favorably impacted. Gone all too soon, you will be and are already missed, sir. Sine Die.

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