In his blood

A strong economy and good education are top priorities for UGA alumnus and House Speaker David Ralston

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David Ralston Special

It’s no surprise that David Ralston ended up a public servant. Growing up in north Georgia his parents encouraged their sons—all five of them—to give back to their community. Ralston’s father, the late David Willard Ralston, served as Gilmer County clerk of court for 28 years.

“I had that example in front of me,” says Ralston (JD ’80).

Now speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, one of the most powerful and influential figures in state government, Ralston began his political career in 1993 as a state senator. He served three terms before running for state attorney general in 1998. He won the Republican nomination, but lost in the general election to Democrat Thurbert Baker.

After the loss, Ralston focused on his law practice in Blue Ridge.

“I had four years of a normal life,” he says, jokingly.

In 2002, redistricting left Ralston in an area without an incumbent in the House of Representatives seat. Supporters encouraged him to run. He was hesitant at first, but entered the race, won and hasn’t looked back. He was elected House speaker in January 2010 after the December resignation of Paulding County Republican Glenn Richardson, who had defeated Ralston for the post in 2008.

The past few years have been difficult for state lawmakers as they have struggled to balance the state budget during a time of declining revenues and increased federal mandates. Balancing the fiscal year 2012 budget is the first priority this session, Ralston says.

He also wants to protect Georgia’s system of higher education, including its four-year and community colleges and technical schools.

“We have really built a system of higher education in Georgia that I think is second to none,” says Ralston, who attended Young Harris College, then earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from North Georgia College and State University in 1976. “I don’t want my time as speaker to be known as the time we backed up from that position.”

K-12 education also is a priority and Ralston said his goal is to reach the point where children in Georgia are the envy of children in all other states because of the quality of their education. Strong economic policies that encourage job growth will help the state reach that goal, he says.

“There’s a link between economic opportunity and education,” he says.

Athens, he says, has a special place in his heart and he returns as often as possible, in the fall joining his son Matt, a junior political science major, for Bulldog football games. The two made their first trip together to a Georgia football game when Matt was 9 and have made it a tradition since.

“He still wants to sit with his dad,” Ralston says. “I’m going to sit with him as long as he’ll let me.”