David Ralston begins his ninth year as speaker of the Georgia House this month. Ralston served in the state Senate from 1992 to 1998, then practiced law and "led a normal life" until being elected to the House in 2002. Ralston attended Young Harris College and North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia), and earned his law degree from the University of Georgia. He previously served as chair of the Southern Legislative Conference and as a member of the NCSL Executive Committee.
What are the biggest changes you've witnessed in politics over the years? Our political dialogue has become a little bit less civil, a little bit less respectful, than it was when I started out. I think that's unfortunate. We've had a lot of groups spring up, both on the right and the left, that seek relevance in destructive ways.
How do we achieve a more civil dialogue? It's up to the people we serve. I think when they demand that pivot, it will happen.
Has the tone made your job more difficult? Probably to some degree, but I don't really think about it that way. I'm honored to have this job. Whether it's a party's caucus or different political parties, I still like to think that we can get around the table and work out solutions. It's not easier because of the tone, certainly, because you have to filter out a lot of what's being said and how it's being said.
What do you hope to see from the Trump administration and Congress regarding state-federal relations? That we will see greater respect for the states. I'm a great believer that the states are truly the laboratories of democracy. States could be much more innovative if they're given the ability. I hope this administration will emphasize the role of the states over the role of the federal government. I participated in a discussion about the infrastructure bill in Washington and came away very encouraged by what I was hearing--that the administration was going to actively include the states in what the plan ultimately looks like. So I am hopeful.
What is your most important legislative priority this session? To revitalize our rural areas. We've had a great record of economic success that's been largely limited to the metro areas, and we realized that we needed to make sure that happens all over the state.
What does it take to be an effective leader? Having a vision of what you want to accomplish and the resolve to see the process through, having the courage to do what it takes to get it done, and...