A Republican state representative from Blue Ridge announced Friday that he would challenge Speaker Glenn Richardson for the top post in the Georgia House.
David Ralston, 54, who has served in the House since 2002 and previously served six years in the Senate, said he was encouraged to run by fellow House members who are dissatisfied with Richardson.
"I didn’t go looking for this," Ralston told The Times. "There’s a lot of unhappiness among the membership. But what is more important is the level of frustration and disillusionment from the general public as to our inability to get things done at the end of this session."
Ralston said Richardson remained "a friend," however, the two men haven’t spoken since Ralston made his decision, which had been rumored since earlier this week when a powerful committee chairman was defeated in his bid for re-election.
Rep. Jeff Lewis, R-Cartersville, lost his bid to Paul Battles on a race that hinged largely on Lewis’ support of Richardson.Ralston has already picked up the support of two members of the Hall County delegation. State Reps. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, and Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, have publicly expressed support for Ralston, who is chairman of the House Non-civil Judiciary Committee. "After going through two full sessions, I felt we could have done so much more absent the strife that seem to be so apparent dealing without our leadership and dealing with others," Collins said.
Richardson became involved in a three-way battle with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Chestnut Mountain, and Gov. Sonny Perdue. The schism continued to the very final moment of the session when Richardson opted to forgo the decades-old tradition of simultaneously ending the House and Senate sessions to avoid confrontation with Cagle.
The two men struggled on a number of fronts, including their involvement in the February race for the 9th District seat on the state Transportation Board. The seat was eventually won by former state Rep. Mike Evans, who later resigned after admitting his romantic involvement with Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham.
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he spoke with Richardson about two weeks ago and the two discussed what was then a rumor about a possible opponent for the speaker.
"I told him (Richardson) that he’s got to do better, not only with the governor, but with the lieutenant governor," Rogers said.
Rogers said he spoke with Ralston today and agreed to meet with him, but made no commitment.
The dean of the Hall County delegation, James Mills, said his top concern right now is getting re-elected to a ninth term in the House.
"Nothing surprises me in politics," said Mills, when asked for his reaction to Ralston’s decision. He made no commitment as to who he would support.
"I think it’s very unwise to commit who you’re going to support until you know who all the candidates are," Mills said.
Ralston, who’s career included a stint as a reporter at The Times in 1976 and 1977, said he fully understands the consequence if he is not successful. He said he has good support among members of the Republican caucus, which meets after the general election to vote on House leadership, including the speaker.
This is the first time Richardson, who was elected as the first Republican speaker in 2004, has been challenged from within his own party.
The late Tom Murphy, who served as speaker for three decades, was challenged twice for the gavel. In the late 1970s, Murphy was unsuccessfully challenged by state Rep. Al Burruss, D-Marietta. The same thing happened in 1993, when Murphy was challenged by state Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, who now serves as minority leader of the House.
"Tom Murphy understood the power and the wielding of power as good as anybody who ever went to the Capitol," said former state Rep. Wyc Orr, D-Gainesville, who once proposed a constitutional amendment that would have limited the number of terms a speaker could serve.
Both Burruss and Porter suffered temporary setbacks in their leadership roles in the House following defeat.
"But Tom Murphy understood that there came a time to be allies again and let bygones be bygones," Orr said. Former state Rep. Jerry Jackson, D-Chestnut Mountain, was a witness to the Burruss episode. But Jackson said Richardson has already shown he has a bent toward retaliation.
"It’s so much different than it would have been with Speaker Murphy," Jackson said.