Amid the allegations that he abused his legislative leave, continued cases for years for dangerous criminals, and has reportedly benefited greatly financially, I hold an opinion of David Ralston that I didn’t think I would.
I believe he is the right man to be Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.
David Ralston is a man who loves his power. Over the last six years, I’ve worked for 11 state representatives and I’ve seen firsthand the way he pushes or halts legislation, the way his weak minions strong-arm lawmakers, and the manner in which he ensures that legislators serve the chamber, instead of their constituents. We’ve all seen him campaign against incumbent conservatives in his own Party and funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to tarnish the character and integrity of honest men and women. And most all of these cringe-worthy actions are chalked up to “politics at its worst,” but “just how it’s done.”
However, as bad as many of these actions are, and despite the recent allegations in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, I still believe David Ralston should be speaker. And here’s why…
Lawmakers from across the state, representing all demographics, political parties, and geographic locations, for years, have enabled a man to rule the lower chamber of the legislature the way he sees fit, free of accountability, oversight, or challenge. The representatives elected by the people have pledged a loyalty to a man instead of a systematic process, which has resulted in an untouchable speakership that wields an unconscionable amount of power. And those who have toed the line have been outfitted with the necessary tools to remain untouchable in their home districts.
The stability of that system – which some refer to as ‘totalitarianism’ – was at risk briefly last week while a series of articles were released following an investigation into the legal practices of Ralston and yielded a not-so-pretty picture of justice denied in northeast Georgia, ripe with the scales of justice tipped in favor of Ralston’s clients because of his legislative position. But the stability was only in jeopardy for what seemed like a few short moments.
Under the Gold Dome, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have largely ignored the cries of the voters and activists out of fear of political consequences, loss of committee chairmanships, the recruitment of primary opponents, and negative publicity in their hometown papers — all of which have happened at the hands of the Speaker in years past.
The ones who have refused to speak up on the Right side of the aisle offer combined excuses: “We shouldn’t eat our own,” it should be handled quietly, or not at all, or without consideration of a resignation — only a change to the law.
Democrats have chosen to remain quiet over fear of who the replacement is under a Republican majority (‘the devil you know’ mentality) and the opportunity to pass of Religious Freedom legislation under new leadership, something Ralston has stood in the way of for years. A few say it isn’t their cross to bear, that Republicans should handle their own problem children, despite the fact that the Speaker is elected by the entire 180-member body. The reality is that regardless of reason, it’ll be a campaign tool for the Left in 2020.
And a Lonesome 10 representatives are standing to voice the overwhelming angst and dissatisfaction of the public. A Lonesome 10 have stepped in front of the proverbial train to ensure they’re stripped of any political clout, subject to alienation, and likely retribution because they believe what they’re doing is both right and representative of The People they represent.
On Friday, 10 lawmakers* signed on to a resolution calling for the Speaker to step down from his position in leadership.
The actions of a Lonesome 10 have drawn criticism from the insider pundits, the longtime supporters of Ralston, and those who stand to benefit from his uninterrupted Speakership. While the reasoning offered by the Lonesome 10, and even the public, has been consistent, concise, and focused, those seeking to defend to Ralston have underestimated the moral compass of the dissidents and dismissed criticisms as misguided, misdirected, and personal. Ironically, the defenders have redirected the conversation to the legality of the law, their longtime friendships with Ralston, and his legislative accomplishments — all of which are seemingly unconnected to the recurring concern of principled people: The Speaker’s actions may be legal, but the use is unethical, immoral, and a barrier to justice. Simply put, using his position as Speaker to delay the process is wrong.
No one is calling for criminal charges and no one is asking that Ralston cease to serve as a representative of his district where he was duly elected. Outraged Georgians, attorneys, the Lonesome 10, and others simply believe that Ralston should step down from his position in leadership because of the appearance and reality of impropriety, especially since Ralston helped tweak the specific portion of the law he has used. There may only be laws and there may be no loopholes, but the undeniable reality is that the practice has been used to obstruct justice and impede due process for all parties involved in the cases for which Ralston is legal counsel. The complete disregard for the system, a system Ralston helps craft laws for every year, puts the House of Representatives and Republicans in Georgia at risk.
But the people who have the power to improve the system and the leadership have chosen to bow down instead of to stand up. A Lonesome 10 has the will of the people behind them, but that isn’t enough. 10 cannot revolutionize a culture or dismantle a regime and so they stand alone under the Gold Dome.
Ralston defended his actions from the Well of the House Monday and said what he did was neither illegal nor immoral, which was met with a thunderous applause. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have conceded that the law should be changed, but they are unwilling to publicly say the law, which Ralston helped write, has been abused. Somehow, they have decided that despite ‘no wrongdoing,’ a change should be made. Now, Ralston is hailed a hero for leading the charge for the change. What alternate universe are we living in?
The legislative body that is the Georgia House of Representatives has long functioned on the premise of politics over principles, putting the game of political expediency over the values of Georgians, and has left the moral and ethical high ground to be something we can only lust after. Without a brave cultural change, Ralston remains on a pedestal and Democrats and Republicans alike, minus the Lonesome 10, prefer political access and power over public service and personal sacrifice. The price for the cowards is a decreased relevancy. The cost for us is decreased representation and a suppressed voice.
So in a world where politics trump principles, I can’t think of a better person to lead a legislative body that has, for years, turned its back on The People.
*The Resolution previously had the support of Representative Karen Mathiak, but she withdrew her support about halfway through the day. Those who signed the resolution include Representatives David Clark (lead sponsor), Kevin Cooke, Matt Gurtler, Colton Moore, Ken Pullin, Scot Turner, Michael Caldwell, Sheri Gilligan, Jeff Jones, and David Stover.