Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002. Prior to that, Ralston served in the Georgia State Senate from 1992 to 1998.
Ralston was elected by members of the Georgia House to serve as the 73rd speaker in 2010. He was the longest-tenured house speaker in the country before his death. He was the second-longest-serving speaker in the state’s history.
Ralston did not seek nomination as House Speaker for the upcoming legislative session, citing a "health challenge." State Rep. Jon Burns is likely to be the next speaker of the Georgia House after Republicans nominated Burns on Monday.
In a statement, the incoming speaker wrote:
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of Speaker David Ralston. Georgia has lost a titan of our political world, and, more importantly, I have lost a dear friend. As a leader, Speaker Ralston was selfless and brave – always willing to place the good of Georgians ahead of his own personal gain. As a friend, he was fiercely loyal – always willing to provide wise counsel and support. Our state will miss him greatly. I will miss him always."
Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, will take over the remainder of the term as House Speaker.
"The state of Georgia has lost one of its greatest leaders with the passing of Speaker David Ralston," Jones said, in part, in a statement. "This is an unfathomable loss and one that leaves a hole in the heart of each and every House member."
Ralston was running unopposed for the 7th House District Seat — which includes Fannin, Gilmer and Dawson counties — for the 2023-2024 legislative session.
Ralston was a champion of legislation that granted state employees three weeks of paid parental leave and reached across the aisle to pass comprehensive adoption reform. In 2022, Ralston championed Georgia's Mental Health Parity Act, which requires health insurance companies to cover mental health and substance abuse treatments similarly to physical conditions.
"I think that we're going to be judged as a state on how we treat the least among us," Ralston said during an interview regarding the state's adoption law overhaul.
Ralston was born in Ellijay and attended Gilmer County High School. He received degrees from Young Harris College and University of North Georgia (formerly North Georgia College). Ralston studied law at the University of Georgia.
Ralston lived in Blue Ridge with his wife, Sheree, where he was an attorney.
Ralston's contemporaries reacted to news of his death.
Gov. Brian Kemp wrote:
"Speaker Ralston was a pioneer in the growth of Georgia’s Republican leadership and leaves an indelible mark on this state. His last session as speaker will long be remembered for his landmark mental health reform bill, helping Georgians fight through inflation, and passing a historic income tax cut that puts more money in the pockets of taxpayers for years to come. We are also especially proud of our previous bipartisan efforts on reforming the citizens’ arrest law and adding an anti-hate crime statute to the Georgia code, which would not have happened without the Speaker's steadfast leadership. These historic accomplishments were only a handful of the numerous hallmarks of David Ralston’s decades-long service to Georgia.
"Marty, the girls, and I are holding Sheree and the entire Ralston family in our prayers, as well as current and former House members, staff, and his Capitol friends. Today, our state lost one of its giants, our family lost a dear friend, and all Georgians lost a true leader."
The governor also issued an executive order calling for flags to be flown at half-staff now through the Ralston's interment. It also calls for his body to lie in state in the Rotunda under the Gold Dome.
Former Georgia Governor Nathan Deal shared a photo of the two Georgia political figures together after news broke that Ralston didn't intend to seek another term as speaker.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens expressed condolences:
Former Georgia House Minority Leader called him a "thoughtful leader."