House speaker visits Senate seeking closer ties

“The last time I was in this podium, I was saying goodbye,” said Ralston, who served in the Senate from 1992 until 1998. “Now, I am here saying hello.”

But the appearance by Ralston, the first former senator to become House speaker, was more than a quick hello. Both Ralston and Cagle have vowed to work together to bring both chambers closer to each other. On Tuesday, for example, they issued a joint statement calling for all members of both chambers to voluntarily submit to more work furloughs.

“Even though he is leading the other chamber, the spirit of cooperation and collaboration is so refreshing,” Cagle said. “Georgians don’t care about Senate bills or House bills. They just want stuff done.”

Just hours before President Barack Obama was to speak to the nation in his State of the Union address, Ralston played a similar role. Sen. George Hooks (D-Americus), the dean of the Senate, said Ralston is the first speaker ever invited to address the Senate from the rostrum.

After Senate Sergeant at Arms Lorenzo Wallace announced Ralston's arrival, the speaker walked down the aisle, shaking hands and hugging members of the Senate.

“I have sat here for the last three sessions disappointed by the lack of cooperation between the two bodies,” said Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur). “They were like islands unto themselves. At some point, there has to be a common goal to serve the people. But there always seemed to be a lack of will from the House.”

As Ralston spoke, the Senate chambers had the feel of a homecoming. More than a dozen former senators, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, visited the chamber for the occasion.

“There is a demand by the people that we work together to solve some of the issues we face in Georgia,” Ralston said. “I am asked all the time, ‘Why can’t y’all get along?’ Well, that is a hard question to answer. They don’t expect us to agree all the time, but they expect us to be respectful and civil and be able to sit down and come up with solutions to some of the issues that confront us.”

Administration Floor Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), after Ralston had left, praised the speaker’s efforts.

“I think it is very refreshing to have Speaker Ralston express his desire to work with both bodies,” Cowsert said. “He wants to establish healthy working relationships. The citizens of Georgia are much less partisan than the press would portray. They really just want their problems addressed. Not internal bickering.”

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