David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, has been elected speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Ralston, whose district includes part of Dawson County, won the election with 116 votes. Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Muscogee County, received 58.
Ralston was chosen by the Republican caucus to serve as speaker after Glenn Richardson resigned late last year.
Richardson’s resignation came after a suicide attempt and amid allegations of an affair with an Atlanta Gas Light Co. lobbyist while he was sponsoring legislation that would have benefited the utility.
Richardson’s presumed successor, then Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter, chose not to take the speaker’s gavel.
According to Tom Crawford of the Georgia Report, Burkhalter announced Monday that he will soon resign from the General Assembly to open a business in London.
Burkhalter and Ralston briefly embraced before Burkhalter handed over the gavel.
“I’ve kind of felt like the co-pilot here the last 10 days,” Burkhalter said. “I was the guy you elected as pro tem never knowing the events would have taken place ... but we have a new pilot. One I am confident in. He’s steady, he’s strong, he’s competent.”
Ralston, in turn, said he was impressed with Burkhalter’s leadership. Ralston is the 72nd speaker of the House of Representatives.
“I stand before you today with a great sense of humility and with a sense of resolve and renewal,” Ralston said. “...We’re at a point that’s both unprecedented and unexpected. We face great challenges. There will, no doubt, be great obstacles thrown in our path.”
As he accepted the speaker’s gavel, Ralston said the House must learn from the mistakes of its past and resolve to work together to address the economic problems Georgians face.
“For all of the noise, the chatter, the disruptions that we’ve experienced and gone through, the truth is this: Georgians are looking to us to lead,” Ralston said.
He addressed a need for ethics reform, highlighted by the former speaker’s resignation.
“We must embrace change, because business as usual in this House will no longer be tolerated,” Ralston said.
Ralston told Democrats that he was willing to work together on all issues.
“I am reaching out my hand to you today if you wish to come along and work together for a better Georgia. You will not have a better friend in the office of the speaker of the entire House of Representatives than me,” Ralston said.
Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, nominated Ralston for the speaker position.
O’Neal lost the Republican nomination to Ralston when the Republican caucus chose a new speaker on Dec. 17. O’Neal said he was the only Republican who hadn’t yet voted for Ralston for speaker.
As he gave his nomination speech Monday, O’Neal promised not to let the chance to vote for Ralston pass him up.
O’Neal said Ralston was the best man to unify the house “in these trying times,” and said the state house needed Ralston’s “Job-like patience.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the House, we’ve got some healing to do, we’ve got some changes to make,” O’Neal said.
House Democrats, led by Minority Leader DuBose Porter, chose Smyre as their nominee for speaker.
Smyre said his nomination gave the Democratic party a voice in the speaker’s election, but that he did not expect to receive the majority of votes in the House election.
“I don’t expect to win today by popular vote, but the mere fact that I am a candidate is a victory for the minority party,” Smyre said.
Ralston yielded his time for his nomination speech to Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville. Houston called Ralston a man of integrity.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that’s any more qualified to be speaker of the house of Representatives than David Ralston,” Houston said.
Ralston’s vice chairmanship on the House Judiciary committee now will have to be filled.
Jan Jones was elected speaker pro tempore in the House. Jones currently serves on the education subcommittee of the budget committee, where she helps set the budget for Georgia’s public school system.
Jones replaces Burkhalter, who has served as speaker pro tempore since 2005.
“There is nobody that I would rather take this position than Rep. Jones,” Burkhalter said.
Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, who nominated Jones, said she’s been “a student of the budget.”
“She’ll have keen insight in working with the budget committee as we work to serve all Georgians,” Burns said. “...Georgia is going through a difficult time right now; we need leaders like Jan Jones.”
With her election, Jones becomes one of the most powerful women in the state legislature and the first to serve in that high a position. She has served in the state house since 2003.
Democratic candidate Rep. Kathy Ashe of Atlanta, chairwoman of the Democratic caucus, has served in the House of Representatives since 1991.
Jones received 113 votes and Ashe received 61.
“If elected, I pledge to serve our new speaker and you as you go about doing what is good and right for all of Georgia,” Jones said in her nomination speech.