The Jolt: Speaker Ralston avoids cultural issues in talk on 2023 agenda

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Speaker David Ralston, R-Ga., will continue to be one of the most influential politicians in Georgia no matter who wins the governor's race. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Speaker David Ralston, R-Ga., will continue to be one of the most influential politicians in Georgia no matter who wins the governor's race. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

No matter who wins the race for Georgia governor, Republicans are poised to maintain control of the Legislature. That means House Speaker David Ralston will continue to be one of the most influential politicians in Georgia.

For the first time, the Blue Ridge Republican on Monday publicly discussed his vision for next year’s legislative session — what he calls an “opportunity” session. In a speech to the Savannah Rotary Club, he laid out an agenda focused on economic development and infrastructure.

He made no mention of dicey cultural issues such as revisiting Georgia’s anti-abortion law, a new effort to expand gun rights or a revival of religious liberty legislation that sparked deep divides in past legislative sessions.

Instead, Ralston said he wants to tone down political rhetoric that has “gotten a little too heated — some might say uncivilized.”

He was inspired, he added, by a “life-affirming” visit to Audrey Haynes’ applied politics class at the University of Georgia, where students peppered him with constructive questions.

“They wanted to know about their future. They wanted to hear what jobs and opportunities would await them when they joined the workforce,” he said. “They asked what my colleagues in the General Assembly and I were doing to make sure they had access to good schools, good health care and safe communities.”

To Ralston, that means pushing initiatives to boost the state’s freight infrastructure to capitalize on Georgia’s growing auto industry, with Hyundai and Rivian plants expected to soon employ thousands of workers.

Ralston also said lawmakers must prepare the state for the “demands of an automobile market that is becoming ever more reliant on electric charging capability.” Groups are also working on measures involving rural development, mental health and affordable housing.

“So, if there’s something you want to talk to me about for next year’s General Assembly, be sure you frame how it will impact opportunity in this state,” Ralston said.

“Will it provide our children a better education? Will it expand access to health care? Will it improve our infrastructure and make us more competitive? Those are the questions I’m going to be asking. That’s where my focus will be next legislative session.”

Ralston has long been less eager than other GOP leaders to embrace polarizing cultural debates, and many legislators from both sides of the aisle see him as a safety valve to prevent incendiary legislation from moving forward.

While Ralston has tapped the brakes on some controversial proposals, he’s also let other conservative priorities reach votes, including measures this year that expanded gun rights and aims to direct how teachers discuss race in the classroom.

But with this speech, he’s sending a signal to fellow Republicans that he’s got little appetite to wade back into the culture wars next year.


HEALTH INNOVATION AGENCY. The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s members sent a letter Monday urging the Biden Administration to put the headquarters of a newly created federal agency in Georgia.

The chamber’s leaders said the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health will benefit from metro Atlanta’s “healthcare, technology, innovation, partnerships, talent, diversity and history.” Members of the state’s congressional delegation sent a similar letter in June.

The new letter, sent to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, similarly noted that Atlanta is already a nexus of medical research as home to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new agency was created with a $1 billion round of funding in a budget measure signed into law by President Joe Biden in March with the goal of pursuing high-risk, high-reward innovations in health care.

On Monday, Biden selected Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, a Boston biotech executive who earned her undergraduate degree and Ph.D. from Georgia Tech, as the director of the new agency.


Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

BACK AT IT. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff was back on the Senate floor Monday, participating in votes after missing action last week due to COVID-19.

Ossoff tested positive while on an official trip to India and was forced to stay behind and remain in isolation. Ossoff’s office did not release details about when he arrived back in Washington, but he was present for two evening votes on Monday.

Unlike in the U.S. House, where proxy voting remains an option, the Senate never implemented remote voting as a way to allow members to weigh in from afar during the coronavirus pandemic.


Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo


  • President Joe Biden will host a celebration at the White House in honor of the climate change, health care costs and tax bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act. Thousands of people, including government and elected officials from the federal and local levels, are expected to attend.
  • U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is expected to introduce legislation that would create a federal ban on abortions after roughly the first trimester. However, many states, including Georgia, have more restrictive abortion laws on the books. Graham’s legislation is unlikely to gain traction in a chamber controlled by Democrats.
  • The U.S. House returns from summer vacation and is expected to vote on a resolution honoring Queen Elizabeth II, who died last week. Three new members chosen via special elections last month in Alaska and New York will be sworn in.


WILLIS WATCH. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis continues to be in the national spotlight during the special grand jury’s investigation of possible election interference by allies of former President Donald Trump.

The New York Times ran a lengthy profile of Willis Monday written by reporter Richard Fausset. It included details about Willis’ background, legal philosophy and current caseload that many Jolt readers will be familiar with.

But it also has this nugget from Willis about the fundraiser she hosted for Charlie Bailey, her former co-worker in the Fulton County DA’s office and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

“Ms. Willis said she would not have attended the (Charlie Bailey) fund-raiser if she could do it over again. But she said that she had grown close to Mr. Bailey when she ran the D.A.'s trial division and he worked for her. “He's one of my babies, as I like to call him."

- The New York Times

Hosting the fundraiser landed Willis in hot water with the judge overseeing the case, who took her off of the portion of the proceedings that involved state Sen. Burt Jones, who has been named as a target of the investigation for his role as a fake elector for Trump.

A separate legal team will handle anything involving Jones, who has also been taken off the target list by the judge for now.


Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

GRADY PLAN. With the closure of Atlanta Medical Center imminent, state officials are discussing a one-time aid package of nearly $200 million for Grady Health System to ensure it has the funds to respond to an expected influx of new patients.

The AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Katherine Landergan report that more than $100 million could come from the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal coronavirus relief package. Gov. Brian Kemp has wide authority on how the state spends that money.

The money could be used to add nearly 200 beds to Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta, which after AMC’s closure would be the city’s only high-level trauma center.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, DeKalb chief executive Michael Thurmond and Fulton County Commission chair Rob Pitts met Monday with Kemp. DeKalb and Fulton counties pitch in local dollars to fund Grady, and DeKalb lawmakers are also considering a substantial new payment to help the hospital.


NOT A FAN. For about a year-and-a-half and counting, actress Natasha Rothwell has sent Gov. Brian Kemp the same message every day on Twitter: “You are trash.”

On Monday, she sent her daily message to him while attending the Emmy Awards: “Emmy’s are great. You are trash,” wrote the actress nominated for an outstanding supporting actress award.

Rothwell’s messages began on March 25, 2021, the same day that Kemp signed Georgia’s new restrictive election law. He never responds.

Shortly after sending Monday’s tweet, Rothwell and the rest of “The White Lotus” cast won the Emmy for outstanding limited or anthology series.


HONORING THE GREATS. The Atlanta Press Club has announced the six journalists to be honored later this year as the newest members of its Hall of Fame. The club reserves the recognition for journalists “who have made a significant impact on journalism in Georgia and around the country.”

This year the inductees include Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, who created WAUC-AM and The AUC Digest, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly and Fox 5 Atlanta’s Russ Spencer.

Three people will also be honored posthumously: WSB anchor Jovita Moore, storied multi-platform journalist Dick Williams, and his wife, Rebecca Chase Williams, an Emmy winner who is also known as “the founding mother of Brookhaven.”

11 Alive’s Jeff Hullinger will emcee the Press Club’s Hall of Fame dinner on Nov. 10 at the Cobb Energy Center.


Credit: Russ Bryant Photography

Credit: Russ Bryant Photography

LIVING HISTORY. Exciting news for the many history buffs among our Jolt readers: One of the twelve original drafts of the U.S. Constitution will be on display this Friday in Savannah, courtesy of The Georgia Historical Society.

The rare document belonged to Abraham Baldwin, of the two Georgians who signed the Constitution in 1787. The draft includes Baldwin’s handwritten margin notes, what Historical Society CEO W. Todd Groce calls the “greatest treasure.”

It’s all a part of the organization’s Constitution Day open house, as well as the kickoff for this year’s Georgia History Festival. The year-long k-12 program will feature resources, exhibits and in-school events to bring “history to life” for Georgians of all ages.


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