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David Ralston re-elected, warns governor of House’s independence

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House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, takes the oath of office Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, the first day of the new legislative session. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

David Ralston was overwhelmingly re-elected speaker of the Georgia House on Monday as lawmakers returned to Atlanta for a new 40-day session.

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, faced no opposition but did not receive every member’s vote. The final tally was 169-6, with all of the “no” votes coming from Democrats, including Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta. Two years ago, Ralston was re-elected speaker by a 170-6 vote.

Ralston was first elected speaker in 2010. In a wide-ranging speech upon his re-election, Ralston called on members to work for all Georgians and to work together.

“It is my hope we will begin this work with a spirit of optimism and with a commitment to the ideals of civility, mutual respect and decorum,” Ralston said. “We represent distinct districts. We each have an obligation to give a voice to those who look to us for leadership.

“Regardless of political party. Whether you are rural, urban or suburban. Regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation, you are each a member of this people’s House.”

But Ralston also appeared to send a message to Gov. Nathan Deal, as he reaffirmed the House’s independence. He told members it was 50 years ago that the House wrested away power from the governor to elect its own speaker and appoint its own committee chairs.

“While we are proud of the partnerships we enjoy with the executive branch, partnerships that are good for Georgia, we must be reminded the power to legislate for the will of the people will be honored and protected by this body,” Ralston said.

Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, signaled there were no hard feelings.

“David Ralston has been and will continue to be a friend,” said Riley. “His acceptance speech as speaker was appropriate for the House.”

Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, was also re-elected speaker pro tem, the number two spot in the House. No Democrat challenged Jones, who was elected by a vote of 170-6.

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