Ralston back as Ga. House Speaker as Dems take stock of missed chance

House Speaker David Ralston speaks with the media Monday afternoon, moments after Republican lawmakers nominated him to remain the speaker. The Blue Ridge Republican helped his party maintain control of the House in the Nov. 3 general election. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

House Speaker David Ralston received resounding support from his GOP colleagues Monday after he successfully led the charge to block Democrats from flipping control of the chamber for the first time since the early 2000s.

Today, instead of naming their own House Speaker, the Democrats who campaigned long and hard to wrest 16 seats from Republican control are set to replace their house minority leader, who lost his re-election bid last Tuesday. 

Ralston won the nearly unanimous support of his caucus Monday, as he defeated Rep. David Clark of Buford, one of the few dissenting voices and one of the few Republicans who called for his resignation last year. 

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said Monday’s support is a welcomed relief after spending the final week leading up to the Nov. 3 election traveling the state to stump for members in tough fights for another term.

“How does it feel to beat the odds and stand here today as a winning thing?” Ralston asked as GOP legislators gathered in the House chamber Monday. “The blue wave, when it got to this House of Representatives, was a squirt gun last week.”

Democrats had only gained two extra seats as election officials counted a few remaining ballots. That’s well shy of the 16 they hoped to gain to take control of the House. State and national Republicans also targeted House Minority Leader Bob Trammell with a $1 million campaign to unseat the Luthersville Democrat. 

Not that the election was smooth sailing for GOP incumbents. With a few races still in play while ballots were counted Monday, GOP incumbents who lost re-election bids included Rep. Dale Rutledge of McDonough and Rep. Brett Harrell of Snellville, the chief tax-writing Ways and Means Committee chairman. Republicans conceded another loss during Monday’s meeting at the Capitol with Rep. Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs trailing Democrat Shea Roberts by about 365 votes.

If GOP leads hold up for influential legislators in Gwinnett and Cobb counties, voters will send Reps. Chuck Efstration and Sharon Cooper back to the Capitol for another two years.

“Although losing great members like Brett Harrell and Deborah Silcox and Dale Rutledge hurt my heart so much, to retain a strong majority in the current environment is, in my view, a great achievement and one in which we can take a lot of pride. We did what they said could not be done,” Ralston said.

The full House chamber will vote on Ralston’s appointment at the start of the legislative session in January. Clark’s campaign against Ralston for the party’s nod won just two votes in favor of replacing him as the speaker. 

The Buford resident charged that Ralston shirked his lawyer responsibilities by using his role as a speaker to improperly delay court cases and for not creating a better blueprint for long-term Republican success in the Legislature. 

“He’s a headhunter and a dictator, not a leader who fights for our caucus and lets us each represent our own diverse districts,” Clark said.

Democrats win some seats, but not enough

Election 2020 wasn’t supposed to be such a comfortable GOP victory holding on to the House after Democrats gained significant ground in 2018 by winning 11 additional seats.

More than a year ago, Democrats mapped out the ambitious scenario of overtaking the House, mostly by winning heavily populated suburban areas around Atlanta and other pockets of the state. 

State Rep. James Beverly, a Macon Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said it’s a big blow to fall short after months of hard work.

“We didn’t have an enthusiasm gap, we didn’t have a bad candidate gap, We didn’t have a commitment gap,” Beverly said. “We had a numbers gap.”

Among the vulnerable Republicans who emerged victorious in battleground districts are Rep. Rick Williams, whose district covers Baldwin County and much of Putnam County, and 37-year incumbent Rep. Gerald Greene of Cuthbert.

Republicans celebrate ouster of minority leader

Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer credited the “amazing partnership” with the House Republican Caucus that raked in more than $3 million to the Georgia Republican Party for the elections.

Spending from outside groups also ratcheted up this election, including Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, a political action committee that pumped $3 million to back state GOP candidates in heated battles. 

Republicans chalked up the win against Trammell to a well-financed campaign and a strong candidate in David Jenkins, a military veteran, air ambulance pilot and a goat farmer in Meriwether County. 

The district straddling Meriwether, Troup and Coweta counties and sits just 60 miles southwest of Atlanta and backed Trump in 2016.

“We couldn’t be more excited to send Bob Trammell packin’ and replace him with an upgrade – Republican David Jenkins will serve his district with the utmost integrity and attention to the needs of his community,” said Austin Chambers, president of the Republican leadership committee. 

Replacing someone as adept as the Luthersville attorney Trammell won’t be easy, said Beverly, who is eligible for the minority leader job himself. 

Trammell, the lone rural white male in the House, congratulated Jenkins on the victory.

“In Georgia, we had a lot of competitive House races, which is a testament to where we are as a state,” he said. “It’s been an honor to represent the district for six years, and I appreciate the trust the constituents have had in me during that time.”