Speaker Ralston and his Press Secretary Marshall Guest made time to sit down with me. I could be nonchalant about it – like he’s just any ol’ politician, but I’m very thankful for the experience. A small percentage of citizens will ever meet the Speaker of the House at all – much less during session. I was a bumbling Sunny Davis (see vid at bottom), and he was nothing but nice about it.
I think there’s a huge divide between the grassroots activists and the legislators who truly call the shots. People usually get into politics for noble reasons and then (like most relationships) it takes work on both sides for politicians to not lose touch with their constituents. I took the first step and asked for time on Speaker Ralston’s calendar; it was given to me without delay or rescheduling. I have to wonder if the ship wouldn’t right itself if more citizens would say, “I’d like a meeting, please”… and an in-person meeting to sit across from someone and see their eyes, not just firing off a nastygram template email.
The point of the meeting was simply for me to meet him – as a person, not just a name in the headlines. As I’ve said before, it’s very easy to throw people under the bus or joke about their misfortune when you don’t know them; when they’re not real. That’s why I’ve started making a concerted effort to meet as many legislators as possible and have an actual conversation with them. I was a little nervous sitting down to be completely honest. I explained that I fell into writing as a hobby and that our conversation wouldn’t be hard-hitting journalism.
When asked how he got started, Speaker Ralston explained that his dad was involved in local politics and that he’d always just been around it. The fellow dork in me was amused that he missed his senior prom to go to a YR convention. He then ran for State Senate in 1992. He kindly walked me through his political history and the final note was that he was recruited to run for House in 2002 and hasn’t been contested in a race since 2004.
I explained that I’m concerned about the role of women in Georgia politics. The House has a pretty solid model of women in leadership, so there was nothing to be combative about there. I did mention to him that he’s one of the most powerful men in the state and that he has the ability to persuade others to recruit and promote capable women from the top ranks of leadership all the way down to the grassroots level.
I also brought up the topic of raising legislator pay. It wasn’t phrased in the form of a question, so I don’t know his particular stance on the subject. It would be hard for any politician to suggest raising legislator pay without a solid justification. But if our common goal is to bring more minorities (any and all) under the GOP banner, then raising the pay so that someone besides a wealthy entrepreneur could run for office would be one avenue to do that. Raising from $17,000 to $35,000 would enlarge the pool of candidates; raising to $60,000 would completely change Georgia’s political landscape.
I did ask him one specific question: “Speaker, under your currently proposed ethics bill, would the conversation we just had be considered lobbying?” He was quick to respond, “Absolutely not,” and then he explained the intent of the bill is to identify those who are down at the Capitol daily and lobbying multiple bills as lobbyists. He said to expect the final version of the bill tomorrow or Thursday.
My goal was reached: I met the Speaker, and we each know the person on the other side of the media posts. He said to not be a stranger. Poor guy – I hope to take him up on it as much as I can.