Georgia House Speaker and state representative David Ralston has died. He was 68.
Ralston’s staff confirmed his passing to Channel 2 Action News on Wednesday following an extended illness.
The news comes after Ralston announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as speaker because of a “health challenge.”
“The House needs a Speaker who can devote the necessary time and energy to the office,” Ralston said in a statement at the time. “I love the House and want to see the honorable men and women who serve in it succeed.”
His political career dates back to 1992 when he was elected to the Georgia Senate — a time when Democrats held the majority in the state legislature.
He first rose to power after a scandal involving then-House Speaker Glenn Richardson.
Richardson’s ex-wife said in a TV interview that he had an affair with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist while pushing legislation that would benefit the utility.
Ralston decided to run against Richardson in 2008, saying internal GOP feuding was keeping the General Assembly from getting things done.
Even though he lost that election, it put Ralston in a position to take over the chamber after Richardson’s resignation.
He was eventually elected as Georgia House speaker in 2009 and served in that post before stepping down in November 2022.
Throughout his time as Georgia House speaker, Ralston survived multiple revolts over the years from fellow Republicans who wanted the chamber to more aggressively back conservative legislation.
He also fought off an attempt to be ousted by a group of 10 Republican lawmakers after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found he frequently delayed criminal cases by claiming court dates interfered with his legislative duties.
Upon news that he was stepping down, Gov. Brian Kemp said Ralston was a great leader for Georgia.
“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,” Kemp said.
Former Gov. Nathan Deal called Ralston a personal friend.
“David has been a good, personal friend of mine for more than 40 years,” Deal said. “He’s been an outstanding leader. His steady hand and guidance helped bring order and efficiency to the General Assembly, which can be an unwieldy and unpredictable body at times. I could have asked for no better partner during my tenure as governor.”
Born in Ellijay, Ralston was a graduate of Gilmer County High School. He went on to attend Young Harris College and North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia), where he earned his bachelor’s degree with honors. He later received his law degree from the University of Georgia.
Ralston leaves behind his wife Sheree and two children.
Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered all flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Ralston.