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Georgia Republican House Speaker Dies At 68

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


Georgia House Speaker David Ralston died Wednesday at 68, less than two weeks after announcing that he planned to step down because of health concerns.

Ralston, the longest-serving sitting Speaker of any state legislature in the nation, became the Georgia House’s 73rd Speaker in 2010. He was also the second-longest serving Speaker in the state’s history. Just prior to last week’s midterms, Ralston announced he would not seek the role for the upcoming legislative term if his constituents reelected him, citing a health challenge. Ralston ran unopposed.

The New York Post reports what will happen in the statehouse to fill Ralston’s seat.

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“Until the current legislative term ends in January, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, will become speaker, as called for by the state constitution. She will be the first female speaker in Georgia history. Republicans on Monday nominated Jon Burns of Newington to replace Ralston when the newly elected General Assembly convenes Jan. 9, an effort at continuity supported by Ralston’s closest allies,” New York Post reported.

“Serving as Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives has been the honor of a lifetime, and I owe a heartfelt thank you to my colleagues for the trust and confidence they placed in me thirteen years ago,” he said in the announcement. “I need to take time to address a health challenge which has arisen recently, and the House needs a Speaker who can devote the necessary time and energy to the office. I love the House and want to see the honorable men and women who serve in it succeed.”

Many responded to the tragic news of his death.

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Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker tweeted: “Julie and I are heartbroken to learn about the passing of Speaker David Ralston. Speaker Ralston cared deeply about Georgia, fought for his beliefs, and delivered. He accomplished so much and his impact will be felt for generations. We are praying for Sheree and his family.”

Georgia Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock said: “Georgia is made better by leaders like David Ralston. I am praying for Speaker Ralston’s family and his loved ones during this difficult time. May his example of leadership and civility endure through the lives he touched.”

Georgia GOP state leader Houston Gaines tweeted: “David Ralston was an unbelievable leader. There was simply no one finer than our state has ever seen. He was our Speaker — he helped guide Georgia through some tough times. He’s made our state a better, kinder place. And he’s made so many of us better human beings. He was an amazing father and husband. He cared deeply about others. He simply loved people and loved making a difference. He loved life — behind his serious demeanor, he was extremely witty and funny. He could scare the hell of you — and he could have you laughing to no end. But he wasn’t a politician—he was a statesman. I will be forever grateful for his friendship & indebted to him for all he’s done for me. I join the entire state in praying for his wife, Sheree, and his children—and the entire Ralston family. We love you & miss you, Mr. Speaker.”

GOP Governor Brian Kemp released a statement saying: “David Ralston has been a steadfast leader for Georgia throughout his time as Speaker, and our state is better off thanks to his wisdom and commitment to all Georgians while guiding the House through challenging times.”

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“Leigh Ann and I are sad to hear the news on Speaker Ralston’s passing,” said Rep.-elect Mike Collins (R-Ga.). “He was a tremendous leader for our state and will be missed by many.”

Several Democrats paid tribute to Ralston’s leadership and hailed him as a moderate.

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“Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation. While we certainly disagreed often, Speaker Ralston’s presence will be missed under the Gold Dome,” Georgia Democrat Rep. Nikema Williams said.

“Our policy differences aside, we found Speaker Ralston to be measured and level-handed. Our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time. His absence will be felt throughout Georgia, but his legacy and memory will live on,” Georgia House Minority Leader Gloria Butler said in a statement.

“A great pine tree has fallen in the Georgia House of Representatives,” said Democrat Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving member of the House.

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