State House Speaker David Ralston, a criminal defense attorney, repeatedly cited his legislative duties to keep the rape and child molestation case against Jason Brothers from moving forward in Towns County Superior Court. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

David Ralston on Trump, sports betting and the ‘obsession’ of his critics 

House Speaker David Ralston warned Republicans can’t turn a “blind eye” toward the party’s worsening struggles in the suburbs. He noted how Georgia lagged behind Tennessee, which recently legalized online sports betting. And he said GOP candidates must acknowledge a truth in 2020.

“Anyone who wants to be on the ballot is going to have to be at peace with their relationship with the president,” he said.

In a wide-ranging interview on GPB’s “Political Rewind,” Ralston talked of the “obsession” of critics who accuse him of abusing his legislative leave privilege, but denied punishing them by engineering their demotion. 

He said the House would block attempts to cut funding to eliminate the backlog on the testing of rape kits or attempts to target senior care services.

And he promised to soon appoint members of a commission that needs to be filled before Georgia’s medical marijuana expansion can take effect.

Here’s some of what he said:

On criticism from Democrats about the cost of Gov. Brian Kemp’s healthcare waiver proposals

“I’m not sure what kind of math the opponents are using. But I do know this math: Since I was speaker, I know the problems we had getting the federal government to fund transportation. I know that if we went to a full Medicaid expansion and the federal government chose to walk away from the portion they’re funding, that falls on the taxpayers of Georgia. The implications on our budget would be catastrophic.”

On what Republicans will do to extend insurance to hundreds of thousands of poor Georgians not covered under Kemp’s plan

“One of the things we’ll do is continue to try to grow jobs in Georgia. That’s a pretty good way to solve this problem. I’m open to looking at other measures, but I’m not aware of anything specific at this time. I don’t think anyone in the majority caucus has an appetite for a full Medicaid expansion.”

2/25/19 - Atlanta - House Speaker David Ralston leaves the well to a standing ovation after he spoke during Morning Orders to address accusations that he has abused his authority. Several Republican lawmakers signed onto a resolution calling for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston to resign over his use of power to delay cases of defendants accused of crimes. Bob Andres /
Photo: Bob Andres/

On demoting Republicans who called for his ouster:

“There seems to be some kind of obsession with me, I guess, among a few. There was no punishment. People like to play victim, I guess, on these things... 

“We want to put people in positions that other members trust and respect. Because if you don’t have that trust and respect, you’re not going to be very effective, frankly ...

“The speaker’s job is not to be popular. The speaker’s job is to manage the House in such a way that we can do the business that the people sent us to do. And at the core of the job is to put the best team I can together. And I think I put together the best team.” 

On what he considers off-limits from budget cuts in 2020:

“I don’t know what’s going to be offered up for cuts. I’ve seen things in the literature that suggests that the rape kit funding we put in there (could be slashed). Do I think that should be safeguarded if at all possible? Absolutely. Because that keeps people safe. That is resulting in convictions of bad people in this state. 

“Senior citizen protective services. Do I think that’s important? You’re darn right, I do. We have an obligation to care for the elderly who can be preyed upon and harmed and abused.”

On whether 2020 is the year a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling will pass: 

“There’s a lot of groups out there that are very supportive of sports betting. Tennessee of all places, that’s behind in everything, including football – they passed a sports betting bill in the spring. (There’s) a lot of interest in that in the state ... In 2020, you probably will hear a fair amount of discussion.”

On lessons from the GOP defeats in suburban Kentucky and Virginia in this week’s elections:

“I do have to tell you, Greg, to be very candid with you, we can spin this nine ways to Sunday. But at the end of the day, there were indications coming out of both Kentucky and Virginia that should reinforce what we in the Georgia House majority have been saying since last November. We have got to have a good message and we’ve got to communicate a good message in the suburban area in the state ...

“Much of our effort is targeted in those areas. And the issues we’re focusing on in the runup to the session, such as maternal mortality and gang violence, transportation and logistics, are going to be issues that resonate with those voters. We’ve got to do a better job communicating, and we cannot turn a blind eye to those results in those states.”

On President Donald Trump’s impact on 2020 races in Georgia:

“The president is enormously popular in rural Georgia. Probably less popular in the suburbs and the cities. But any incumbent president running for re-election is going to loom large over the elections that are going on. It is true, 2018 is the first time we really had seen legislative races here in Georgia become nationalized ... 

“Anyone who wants to be on the ballot is going to have to be at peace with their relationship with the president.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.