Georgia House Speaker to quit over health concerns

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R) on Friday announced he would not seek a new term in leadership. Photo credit: Werner4799 via Creative Commons.

Longtime Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R) will give up the gavel in January to address a personal health concern, ending a dozen-year reign that made him one of the most powerful people in Peach State politics.

Ralston, 68, is the longest-serving state House speaker in America. He said in a statement Friday he would continue to serve in the state House in the next term, though he would not seek a leadership position.

“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,” Ralston said in a statement. “I love the House and I want to see the honorable men and women who serve in it succeed. I will work the remainder of my term as Speaker to ensure a smooth transition for my successor.”

Ralston was first elected to the state Senate in 1992. After a four-year hiatus, he won election to the state House in 2002. In 2010, Republicans elected Ralston to serve as House Speaker after his predecessor resigned in the midst of a scandal.

An attorney, Ralston represents a district along Georgia’s northern border with South Carolina. He was seen as a relative moderate in an increasingly conservative Republican majority, though the state House approved new abortion bans, voting restrictions and limits on transgender and gay rights during his tenure.

His exit will set off a scramble to lead the state House in the new term, as Republicans are likely to maintain control in next week’s midterm elections. 

State Rep. Barry Fleming (R), the architect of a new election overhaul bill passed in the wake of the 2020 presidential contest, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he would run for the seat. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R) and House Majority Leader Jon Burns (R) are both potential candidates.

Ralston is the latest in a long line of state legislative leaders to bow out of office this year. At least 35 other House speakers, Senate presidents or majority leaders are leaving office at year’s end, either to retire or to seek another elected position. 

Among the exodus is Georgia’s other top legislative leader, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R), whose role includes leading the state Senate. Duncan decided not to seek a new term after clashing with Republicans who denied the results of the 2020 elections.