Speaker Ralston honored by Georgia Trend and Reed; views on MARTA, MARTOC, high speed rail

By Maria Saporta

It was David Ralston’s day in the sun.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston was honored Thursday as Georgia Trend’s Georgian of the Year, receiving accolades and a standing ovation from many of the people attending the 100 Most Influential Georgians lunch.

But it was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed who showered the most praise for Ralston.

“David Ralston has brought dignity back to the Georgia General Assembly,” Reed said, adding that he was pleased “civility” was becoming a political focus. “The speaker was already there. He is a conscientious, honorable individual who cares. He puts the best interest of Georgians ahead of his own. I’ve seen him do that again and again and again.”

When it was his turn to speak, Ralston humbly accepted the recognition but gave credit to the other 179 men and women who serve in the House of Representatives.

Ralston only alluded to his predecessor Glenn Richardson, who resigned when it was revealed that he had had an affair with a lobbyist.

“A couple of years ago, we had some bumps,” Ralston said before adding that he and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who oversees the state Senate, were friends and worked well together. “I tried a different style of management in the last session. It’s called cooperation. And it works.”

Then Ralston said he could no leave the podium without acknowledging the contributions of Mayor Reed. He said the Atlanta mayor deserved most of the credit for getting the transportation bill through the legislature last year.

“I look around at the leaders like Casey Cagle, Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Reed…and it gets me excited, even in this down time, about the Georgia’s future,” Ralston said.

Georgia Trend also inducted three top business leaders into its hall of fame: Ray Anderson, the chairman of Interface who has become a national advocate for the environment; David Ratcliffe, the retired chairman and CEO of the Southern Co.; and Frank Skinner, a retired CEO of BellSouth Telecommunications.

“I really feel a bit guilty for being recognized for doing things that I really enjoyed doing in a community I really loved and with individuals I really enjoyed working with,” said Skinner, who has been active with United Way, the Salvation Army, the Atlanta Rotary Club, Morehouse College, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and a host of other organizations.

After the luncheon, I asked Ralston why he had selected Georgia Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb) to chair the important MARTA Oversight Committee (MARTOC).

“He’s a good man,” Ralston said of Jacobs. “I think he’s fair. I think he’s thorough. And I think he understands the issues with MARTA and understands that it’s an important part of our state.”

Jacobs does appear to be taking a different approach chairing MARTOC than did his predecessor, Jill Chambers, who saw herself as a zealous watchdog over MARTA but lost re-election in November.

In a newsletter to his constituents, Jacobs said that thanks to MARTA, he was able to make it to the state Capitol on Monday, Jan. 10 when the whole Atlanta region had been brought to a standstill because of snow and ice.

“I mention my mode of transportation because, even though it took about twice as long as usual, the trains were running regardless of the weather,” Jacobs said. “This underscores MARTA’s importance to mobility in Metro Atlanta. In fact, I frequently ride MARTA from Chamblee to Downtown Atlanta.”
Later in the newsletter, Jacobs said he would continue to review MARTA’s budget and fiscal issues.

“Delivery of criticism, however, will be different,” Jacobs said. “It is my intent to have a legislator who serves on MARTOC in attendance at most meetings of the MARTA board of directors, which is the board that makes budget and policy decisions for MARTA. That will begin on Monday, January 24, with my own attendance at a MARTA board meeting. The lines of communication between MARTOC and MARTA will be frequent, open, transparent and direct.”

Sure enough, Jacobs did attend MARTA’s last board meeting, a visit that is featured on MARTA’s website.

Final thought:

Ralston has been criticized for taking his family and staff on a lobbyist-paid trip to Europe over Thanksgiving to see some of Europe’s high speed rail network at a price of $17,000.

While I’m not condoning a lobbyist-paid family trip, I am delighted that Ralston was able to witness how rail can transform communities and spur sustainable development. The more state leaders who can see first hand the value of rail transportation between and within the cities, the better off we will be.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

6 replies
  1. Jim Durrett says:

    I have no doubt that Mike Jacobs will be an excellent MARTOC chair. My hope and expectation is that MARTOC, under Mike’s leadership and with MARTA’s willing cooperation, will assess how the various elements of the MARTA Act that created our transit authority either help or hinder our ability to deliver quality service to our current patrons and those who would like better access to our system. A new day is dawning, folks. And thanks for reporting on it, Saporta. And Maria, I had exactly the same reaction to Speaker Ralston’s trip that you had.Report

    Reply
  2. Mason Hicks says:

    These are really exciting developments; and somewhat unexpected; at least, by me…
    It does appear that Georgia may be starting to get it’s act together…Report

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  3. juanita driggs says:

    I agree that Mike Jacobs’ MARTOC appointment is a wise move. It helps solidify suburban support for Ralston without sacrificing any political capital in the process. It also gives someone with fire in his belly like Jacobs a valuable soap box that he should be better able to exploit than clueless Jill Chambers who squandered her opportunity to be an astute politician.

    As for Ralston’s family European junket at lobbyists’ expense, it looks and “smells” of gold dome business as usual. As far as I’m concerned, Ralston is off to a very shaky start in the ethics department, is still untried in the leadership department and the Atlanta press corps as usual didn’t ask near anywhere enough of the hard questions and stopped asking them far too soon.

    Let’s agree to revisit this Saporta Report at the end of the 2011 legislative session and compare how many of these glowing accolades hold up.

    Let’s see how serious Ralston and the leadership is about putting stringently verifiable caps on lobbyists’ goodies that can stand up to the light of day. Frankly anything worth more than a cup of coffee or a greetng/thank you card should be a “no-no”. There should be NO equivocation about this!Report

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  4. Mason Hicks says:

    “..Frankly anything worth more than a cup of coffee or a greeting/thank you card should be a “no-no”. There should be NO equivocation about this!..”

    I generally agree with the sentiment, but as someone who volunteered in transit advocacy for several years, I and my former colleagues often found the money and gifts, free-flowing from the highway builders and interest to our state leadership rubbed in our faces,
    “Georgia’s Largest Road Builder Takes Activist Role (AJC 5-17-2009)”
    This money and these gifts all but nullified all of the hard work and passion of me and hundreds of my fellow advocates. Since we had no budget of our own to speak of, many of us often wished (while holding our noses) that the passenger rail industry would step in and counterbalance the highway interest.
    The situation with Speaker Ralston was a in large part exactly what we were hoping for. I also, do not like the way it was handled (i.e.: taking his family along without paying…), but the travel to Europe is part of what’s needed. The highway interests do not have to take our Legislators very far in order to show off their product. Their product, super-freeways and asphalt by the square mile cuts thru, divides, and surrounds our very city. But for high speed rail; real high speed rail; one has to get in a plane to go find it, and then to experience it for himself.
    Since I now live in France, I can tell you that high speed rail must be seen in place, in operation, and in person to be effectively understood. It cannot be experienced via YouTube or on the internet. For me, it is important that my leaders fully understand this technology and how it has impacted the people and the environment that it has served. But this is not just limited to high speed rail. Our leadership should also see how the Europeans move their people on other transit modes as well. We hear often that the formulas used in Europe and Asia do not apply to the US. However those saying this haven’t experienced it for themselves either. Unfortunately, to see, experience, and understand high speed rail and transit on a European scale requires that our leaders travel to Europe.
    Who pays for this travel and how, is another question; but as long as the highway-builders are able to constantly lay-on the favors to entice our leaders to pour more and more asphalt without even a word of scandal, then I am happy to see the rail interest counteract.
    ws_road_legislation.html
    This money and these gifts all but nullified all of our hard work, since we had no budget. We often wished (under our breath) that the passenger rail industry would step in and counteractReport

    Reply
  5. BPJ says:

    While I don’t like lobbyist-funded trips for legislators, I thought it was odd that so much fuss was focused on a trip to see passenger rail, when for decades the “asphalt kingdom” has had its bought-and-paid-for legislators doing its bidding. Road builders have been lavishing gifts on legislators for years; passenger rail folks finally do the same and all of a sudden it’s news.

    I agree with Hicks that one must experience passenger rail at its best, in person, to understand the potential. And many legislators have never been out of the country.Report

    Reply

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