New leadership under the Gold Dome
Members of the Georgia House elected a new speaker and speaker pro tem on the first full day of the 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly on Monday.
For speaker, lawmakers voted for Blue Ridge Republican David Ralston, a 17-year veteran of the Assembly, by a margin of 116-58 over Columbus Democrat Calvin Smyre, a 35-year veteran of the Assembly.
The House also picked Alpharetta Republican and Majority Whip Jan Jones to be the first woman in Georgia to be the speaker pro tem. The vote was 113-61 over Atlanta Democrat Kathy Ashe.
Ralston called Jones’ election “a shining moment” for women and all Georgians.
Monday’s election concludes a rocky period for the Republican leadership. It began when Former Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) attempted suicide on Nov. 8. Later, his ex-wife went on TV and alleged Richardson carried on an affair with a lobbyist for Atlanta Gas Light while he pushed legislation that was favorable to the company.
The revelation led Richardson to announce his resignation from the speakership and his House seat. On Dec. 17, the Republican caucus nominated Ralston for speaker.
Richardson officially left his post on Jan. 1, leaving now former Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek) as the acting speaker for 10 days.
During his acceptance speech Monday, Ralston commended Burkhalter for his leadership. “He has served honorably and ably as our speaker pro tem now for the past few years. He is my friend and we are in debt for his many years of service.”
Ralston acknowledged the challenges the Assembly faces in 2010 beyond the need to restore faith in leadership.
“For all of the noise, the chatter, the disruptions we’ve experienced, Georgians are looking to us to lead,” he said. “Many wonder how they’re going to make ends meet during this time we’re in. Those Georgians need and want for us to succeed.”
“Georgians need to know now that their state government belongs to the working people of this state and not to the special interests,” Ralston added. “We must embrace change because business as usual will no longer be tolerated.”