ATLANTA — Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced Friday he will not seek another term in the position, meaning in January he will step aside from his perch as one of the state's most influential lawmakers.
In a statement, he said he needed to "take time to address a health challenge which has arisen recently."
Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican who represents the 7th District in the Georgia House of Representatives, has been the chamber's speaker for more than a decade, first getting elected to the role in 2010.
A release from the Georgia House Press Office described him as a "champion for job creation and economic development" and a "driving force behind many legislative accomplishments which have made Georgia the best state in the nation for business year after year."
The mental health reform law passed earlier this year became one of his signature achievements as speaker, which he called a "transformational commitment to improving mental health care" at the time of the bill's signing.
The release said he would continue to hold his House seat for the 2023-2024 legislative session. He is running unopposed for reelection in the 7th District.
Ralston will serve the remainder of his term as speaker, which runs through the rest of this month and December before the new legislative session starts in January.
“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,” Ralston said in a statement. “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. I will work the remainder of my term as Speaker to ensure a smooth transition for my successor.”
On Twitter, Gov. Brian Kemp released a statement that called him 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."
The Georgia House Press Office release also highlighted Ralston's work on Georgia's adoption reform law in 2018 and the passing of a paid parental leave policy for state employees and teachers last year.
Calvin Smyre, a Democrat and state lawmaker from Columbus who served for nearly 50 years, said Ralston will be missed. Smyre was tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as Ambassador to the Bahamas earlier this year. He is awaiting approval from the U.S Senate.
“There’s no secret about our relationship or our friendship,” Smyre said. “We worked together on many, many issues. …He was the steady hand in the Georgia house.
"(Ralston) was always willing to listen and always willing to have a discussion on those issues where we might have differed," Smyre added.
A practicing criminal defense attorney, Ralston did face controversy in 2019 over an alleged practice of abusing a provision of the law to postpone criminal cases involving his clients.
That year, 11Alive obtained records showing Ralston requested 202 postponements for court appearances in the cases of 19 criminal defendants, citing a Georgia law that allowed him to offer up his responsibilities as speaker as a scheduling conflict.
Some of those clients, including a man accused of enticing a child and furnishing obscene material to a minor, remained free on bond throughout the delays.
Ralston steadfastly rejected that he had crossed any ethical boundaries, and ultimately a House resolution calling on him to resign only received support from a small handful of members.
Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political science professor, told 11Alive that Ralston has stopped "more extreme legislation" from passing in the Georgia legislature. His replacement and the results of the 2022 governor's race will have a big influence over what happens in the Georgia house.
"I think the big question here is what type of Republican replaces David Ralston," she said. "David Ralston has been a moderating voice in the Georgia House of Representatives. ...If we end up with a more conservative Republican in that position, we might see a different type of a different type of legislation actually making it through the chamber."