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David Ralston, Georgia House Speaker and ‘Country Lawyer,’ Dies

By Lisa Ryckman  |  November 17, 2022

Flags flew at half-staff over the George Capitol on Thursday in honor of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who died after an extended illness. He was 68.

Ralston was elected to represent House District 7 in 2002 and became speaker in 2010, the first to hold that position from north Georgia in 150 years. At the time of his death, the self-described country lawyer was the nation’s longest-serving active state house speaker.

“Today, our state lost one of its giants, our family lost a dear friend, and all Georgians lost a true leader,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, who issued an executive order lowering flags in Ralston’s honor and announcing that the speaker will lie in state at the Georgia Capitol.

"Today, our state lost one of its giants, our family lost a dear friend, and all Georgians lost a true leader." —Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp

“Speaker Ralston was a pioneer in the growth of Georgia’s Republican leadership and leaves an indelible mark on this state,” Kemp said. “As we mourn his death, we will also honor the monumental legacy he leaves by striving to always put service above self and bring honor and decency into our public lives.”

House Majority Leader Jon Burns, nominated to succeed Ralston in January 2023, called him a “titan of our political world. 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.”

Attorney General Chris Carr said Ralston’s wisdom was surpassed only by his kindness.

“I feel blessed to have called him my friend,” Carr said. “His support of economic development, public safety and mental health reform will leave a lasting impact on our state that will benefit Georgians for generations to come.”

In 2022, Ralston championed Georgia’s Mental Health Parity Act, which improved access to and delivery of mental health services and treatment options throughout the state. His gift for consensus-building helped pass bipartisan legislation such as Georgia’s comprehensive adoption reform in 2018 and the state’s first paid parental leave policy for state employees and teachers in 2021.

Ralston, who served in the Georgia Senate from 1992 to 1998, was a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Executive Committee. He also was an executive committee member of the National Speakers Conference and the Southern Legislative Conference.

Ralston was named “Georgian of the Year” by Georgia Trend magazine in 2011 and received the Zell Miller Award for Distinguished Public Service in 2018.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones will serve as speaker until the end of the current term in January, when the House will vote on the nomination of Burns to succeed Ralston.

Lisa Ryckman is an associate director in NCSL’s Communications Division.

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