Considered by many to be one of the most powerful and influential political leaders in Georgia, David Ralston, who serves as Speaker of the House, visited Milledgeville on Wednesday while stumping for votes and support for a local political candidate.
Ralston, who is third in the gubernatorial succession line, flew to the Baldwin County Airport about 9:30 a.m. where he was greeted by Rick Williams and his wife, Donna.
Williams is a candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives District 145 seat, which includes all of Baldwin County and the southern portion of Putnam County. Williams, a republican, is vying for the seat along with Floyd L. Griffin Jr., a democrat.
Voters will choose between Williams and Griffin in the Nov. 8 General Election.
It marked the second time of late that a prominent state politician has visited Milledgeville on behalf of one of the local House District 145 candidates. Recently, Jason Carter, grandson of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, visited at a campaign kickoff rally for Griffin. The younger Carter is a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate like his grandfather, who now lives in Plains.
Several state legislators welcomed Ralston when he arrived at the local airport, including state Sen. Burt Jones, (R-Jackson) and state Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro). Several other local elected officials, including Baldwin County Board of Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee and Putnam County District 4 Commissioner Billy Webster, were also on hand.
During Ralston’s visit, he talked exclusively with The Union-Recorder about the recent 20 percent pay increase announced by Gov. Nathan Deal last week for men and women who work with state law enforcement agencies.
Several area state law enforcement officers gathered around to hear the interview in the airplane hanger of Ted and Joni Smith, of Milledgeville.
“This is long overdue; that’s for sure,” Ralston said of the proposed pay hike for state law enforcement officers. “When you get that far behind, sometimes you’ve got to throw the long pass to catch back up. That’s kinda what we did last week.”
Ralston, the 73rd Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, was referring to the fact that the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) is 50th in the nation in pay structure versus other states. The new proposed pay increase would move the GSP to 27th in the nation.
When asked why the state had lagged behind so many other states in terms of salaries for state law enforcement agencies, such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Vehicle Compliance Division, Ralston said he didn’t really know, but that it was something that unfortunately developed over a long period of time.
“I think when they came to see me last year and made me aware that our state troopers were 50th in the nation in terms of their base salary I was shocked, and found it unacceptable that a state that takes great pride in being the No. 1 state in the nation to do business was No. 50in terms of how we compensated the people who put their lives on the line every single day to protect the public here in Georgia,” Ralston said.
He said he believes it’s now time to look forward.
“I think what you heard last week was a forward looking proposal,” Ralston said.
Ralston, who has served as Speaker of the House since 2010, said he had never met a law enforcement officer who does the job for the money.
“I think it’s important that we make the compensation competitive so that we don’t lose good men and women to agencies that can pay more, such as municipalities, college campuses, and places like that,” Ralston said.
Asked if he thought the governor’s salary proposal might boost the morale of law enforcement agencies across the state, Ralston said he hoped it would.
“I really do believe it will boost their morale, but I will let them speak to that,” Ralston said. “We have a very good network of law enforcement agencies in this state, and I think we ought to treat them as consistent with how important they are.”
The longtime state lawmaker also was asked to describe how he felt knowing that he and many other lawmakers were the ones responsible for making law enforcement families feel better from a financial standpoint for many years to come.
“It matters a whole lot, because I know of troopers who are friends of mine who literally have to work a second full-time job to make ends meet,” Ralston said. “Maybe now that second job will only have to be a part-time job. That makes me feel good that I could have a small part in that.”
Ralston said he really appreciated the dedication and sacrifices of law enforcement persons everywhere.
“It’s a hazardous job,” Ralson said, noting that nothing was more heartbreaking to him than to receive news that a law enforcement officer had been killed in the line of duty. “That kinda brings all of this into focus.”
When the next legislation kicks off the second week in January, Ralston said lawmakers will address a new state budget, among many other topics.
“I suspect we’ll talk about some education reforms, and some other initiatives in terms of economic development,” Ralston said. “Another thing that gets me excited is seeing jobs come to Georgia — to all parts of Georgia. That’s something I’m focused on in a very intense way and will continue to be.”
For the remainder of the week, Ralston said much of his time would be spent supporting various candidates for state offices in various parts of the state.