Georgia has a new speaker of the House, and now the rubber will start to meet the road in the Georgia General Assembly.
David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, was formally elected as the new speaker Monday. He replaces Glenn Richardson in one of the state’s top jobs after Richardson resigned following scandal and an attempted suicide.
Ralston promised a new tone for the House of Representatives, where many believe lobbyist influence and revenge politics have held too much sway.
“Business as usual in this House will no longer be tolerated,” he told legislators after his election.
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Ralston told fellow Republicans to “govern wisely, responsibly and true to the principles of our great party.” But he also had a message for Democrats, who are in the minority at the state Capitol, saying they “won’t have a better friend” as speaker.
A few Democrats voted for Ralston as speaker instead of siding with their own party’s candidate, including state Rep. Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch.
With the new speaker in place, attention turns to legislating, and Gov. Sonny Perdue is likely to roll out some of his policy initiatives this morning during the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast. Perdue will address the House and Senate on Wednesday in his final state-of-the-state speech. Perdue will present his budget recommendations either in that speech or later in the week.
The budget is key this year, because it’s expected to include heavy cuts. State revenues are down significantly because of the poor economy, and the Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly have taken a stand against raising taxes.
Also this week, serious discussions on ethics reform are likely to ramp up as legislators continue to react to Richardson’s resignation. Republicans and Democrats alike have proposed changes, many of which limit the gifts lobbyists would be able to give legislators.
Ralston has backed a measured approach, saying it may take some time to get a consensus bill.
But Ralston has committed to several changes in the wake of Richardson’s resignation, including an end to the “hawks” system in the House that allowed the speaker and other top leaders to send legislators into committees to change votes. He’s also pledged to change House rules to encourage open debate on the House floor and to curb the past leadership practice of substituting a new bill in place of an old one, then limiting debate on it.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, called these practices “the largest threat to democracy in the United States” and said he expects to see the rule changes go through as soon as this week.
The state Senate opened its half of the session Monday, too, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced a new slate of advisers to work on the state budget. In a move similar to one Perdue implemented a few years ago with his Commission for a New Georgia, Cagle named the heads of several large Georgia companies that will analyze the state budget, then report to the Senate.
They will look for “short-term and long-term budget solutions including consolidation of services, greater efficiency and cutting unnecessary spending” to slice the budget without drastic cuts to essential services or raising taxes in this economy, Cagle said in a news release. The task force will report to the Senate in early February, Cagle said.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.