ATLANTA, Ga. — A day after the longest currently serving Georgia House Speaker, David Ralston, died after an extended illness, his friends and even his political foes are remembering him as a political fighter who also demanded respect and decorum from both sides.
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“He, at times, governed the House with an iron fist,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “But also at times with a big, soft heart, and I think that’s what people really appreciated about him.”
Kemp and Ralston didn’t always see eye-to-eye on legislation, but the governor said they each respected each others’ opinion and authority.
“He was very straightforward,” Kemp said. “You didn’t have to worry about where he is on things, and we had times where we disagreed on things, but we also did a lot of great things together, and I think that’s just part of the governor-speaker relationship.”
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Kemp pointed to the passage of the mental health system overhaul last March as one of the speaker’s greatest legacies to Georgia.
“I believe he governed over one of the greatest legislative sessions in the history of our state last year, and he was a big reason for that,” Kemp said.
Decatur Democratic Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver said she was friends with Ralston for nearly 30 years, even if they didn’t always agree on things politically.
“His leadership has gotten Georgia through some tough spots,” Oliver said. “The way in which he was respectful of everybody has just been so important, and he will be missed.”
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New state House Majority Leader Rep. Chuck Efstration said Ralston mentored and encouraged him as a young lawmaker.
“Speaker Ralston was an inspiration to myself and so many Georgians,” said Efstration. “He dedicated his career to do what was best for all the people of Georgia. I looked to the Speaker as a mentor, and he was a role model that I could fashion my career after.”
No funeral arrangements have been announced yet, but sources said part of the plans include the speaker lying in state at the Capitol.
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