Georgia leaders rally around Ralston amid threat of revolt

The silence at the statehouse over House Speaker David Ralston's future is over. And the Republican has the threat of a revolt among rank-and-file members to thank for it.

As news of state Rep. David Clark's resolution calling on Ralston to resign his position ricocheted around the Capitol, a string of prominent figures who had previously stayed out of the fray rallied behind the embattled House leader.

Former Govs. Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal both called The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in separate interviews to voice support for Ralston, who faces backlash after an investigation found he frequently delayed criminal court cases by claiming the dates interfered with his legislative duties.

He later picked up two more endorsements: Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said he looks forward to continuing to work with Ralston. And Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller praised Ralston’s “diligence, perseverance and commitment.”

“The speakership is a part-time job with over-time hours,” said Miller of Ralston, who makes $99,000 a year as speaker - more than five times what other legislators make. “He’s earning a living while going above and beyond as a citizen legislator.”

The spate of support came after more than a week of uneasiness surrounding Ralston:  no prominent lawmakers from either party criticized him, but many political leaders also didn’t rush to support him.

That was triggered by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News investigation that found that Ralston asked judges to reschedule court proceedings 57 times over a two-year period, using a law that requires the judiciary to defer to legislative duties.

It resulted in delays, sometimes for years, for clients charged with child molestation, child cruelty, assault and other crimes.

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State Rep. David Clark poses with a copy of his resolution. AJC/Greg Bluestein

State Rep. David Clark poses with a copy of his resolution. AJC/Greg Bluestein

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State Rep. David Clark poses with a copy of his resolution. AJC/Greg Bluestein

Clark became the first Republican legislator to make a move against Ralston, saying he decided to introduce the resolution Friday because he feels “betrayed” by the House leader.

He’s been working the phones much of the week to line up co-sponsors, but he wouldn’t say how many other names will join his. That list will be a crucial test of how far his movement will go.

This type of challenge is familiar territory for Clark, a third-term Buford Republican who served in the military in Afghanistan.

In the thick of the 2018 race for governor, he accused then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of trying to sideline his measures after he joined a group that pressured the Senate leader to support the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program.

It’s also a reminder of Ralston’s rise to his post. Once a lower-profile lawmaker himself, Ralston challenged then-House Speaker Glenn Richardson in 2008 with a promise of a more conciliatory approach.

It was crushed - Richardson easily won another term - but it laid the groundwork for Ralston's election a year later after scandal-plagued Richardson resigned in disgrace.

Clark, now considering a run for the open 7th District seat, said he knows the risks he’s taking by targeting Ralston, who has sweeping influence over every legislative proposal that comes up for debate. But he said he’s ready for what may come.

“I don’t look at the end game,” he said. “I’m doing what’s right. I need to take a stand.”