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.
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.