David Ralston Obituary, Death – Less than two weeks after announcing his resignation due to health issues, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston passed away on Wednesday at the age of 68, according to his spokeswoman Kaleb McMichen. In a statement, McMichen simply mentioned that Ralston had passed away following “an extended illness.” During his 13 years in charge of the 180-member House, the Blue Ridge Republican rose to become the second-most influential figure in the Georgia state government. The longest-serving member of the House and Democrat Calvin Smyre of Columbus, a close friend of Ralston’s, declared that “a giant pine tree has fallen in the Georgia House of Representatives.”

Ralston, a lawyer from the highlands of north Georgia, had expressed hope to stay in the House even after resigning as speaker. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, will take over until the end of the current legislative session in January, as required by the state constitution. She will be Georgia’s first ever female speaker. Republicans, with the support of Ralston’s closest allies, selected Jon Burns of Newington to succeed Ralston when the newly elected General Assembly meets on January 9. In a statement, Jones noted that David Ralston “spent his lifetime in public service attempting to pull others up and propel our state forward.

“He was aware of the incredible power of bringing people together, collaborating, and discovering points of agreement. He was a model of decency and treated everyone with respect, regardless of political ideology.” Sheree, his wife, and their two grown children are Ralston’s only survivors. Funeral plans will be revealed later. Ralston changed taxes, spending, and laws as the House’s top leader. For instance, he pushed through significant modifications to the state’s and private insurers’ delivery of mental health services this year. Additionally, he might throw money in the trash, preventing the state from taking control of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2019. In 1992, while Democrats held the majority, Ralston won his initial election to the Georgia Senate. Before being chosen for the House of Representatives in 2002, he lost the race for attorney general in 1998 to Democrat Thurbert Baker.

Ralston was modeled after Tom Murphy, a west Georgia Democrat who presided over the House from 1973 to 2003 and held the record for the longest tenure as a state house speaker in the United States at the time of his death. After a turbulent period during which Glenn Richardson, the first Republican speaker in more than 130 years, resigned due to a failed suicide attempt and allegations of an extramarital affair with a lobbyist, Ralston was elected. In 2008, Ralston ran against Richardson for speaker but lost.  When Ralston announced his resignation earlier this month, Terry England, the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and an Auburn Republican, said, “He brought a calm and steady hand to the House when it needed a calm and steady hand.”

After The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Ralston had used his position as a legislator to postpone court dates for clients he was representing, he faced a challenge to his authority. After failing to defeat Ralston, the majority of the hard-core conservatives who rebelled left the House, with the speaker orchestrating the defeat of some. Ralston was perceived by some Republicans as being too amenable to Democrats. Ralston was in charge of a wide range of Republican priorities and was always willing to lower taxes. He boasted of a state income tax cut that was passed this year and may ultimately save $2 billion in taxes. However, following the passing of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, he assisted in saving a hate crimes bill from legislative limbo.

One of Ralston’s closest friends in the General Assembly, Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur, was his co-sponsor on this year’s mental health legislation. Because of their close relationship, Ralston would give Democrats a respectful hearing and occasionally grant some of their legislative requests. Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat who has claimed that Ralston gave him the opportunity to pass significant legislation even though he was in the minority, tweeted that “in a toxic political environment, his friendship meant the world to me.” We made progress where we could and did not harbor resentment when we took different paths.