TIFTON, Ga. -- Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston was more than 30 minutes late to a scheduled gathering of South Georgia business leaders at the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, but his message was right on time.
"For the first time in 138 years, conservatives hold majorities in both the Georgia House and Senate," Ralston said. "We are sending a message that the leadership of the House values rural Georgia. It is important to the state.
"And I am asking you to do something today. I want you to send Tony McBrayer and Jason Shaw to the House to join our ranks."
McBrayer, of Tifton, is running against Democrat John Tibbets, also of Tifton, to fill Austin Scott's House District 153 seat. Scott had announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination but decided instead to run for the U.S. House District 8 seat.
Shaw, of Lakeland, is in a primary battle with Aleta Larger of Ray City to replace his father, Jay Shaw, as the District 176 representative. The elder Shaw, who served in the House for 16 years, stepped down recently to join the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
"We balanced the state budget last session, and some of the cuts were painful," Ralston, a Blue Ridge attorney, said. "We cut 20 percent of the state budget and there's not much fat left, and we don't have a printing press so we can't print our own money. There are a lot of angry people out there right now, but we are going to look out for the taxpayers of Georgia and not raise taxes."
Ralston said despite the budget cuts, the House managed to keep Ag Education and 4H in the budget and restore funding preventing closures of the GBI crime labs in Columbus and Moultrie.
The Speaker said one of his next big pushes during the 2011 Legislative session will be in the area of transportation.
"Our transportation policy is bringing Georgia into the 21st century. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) really rolled up his sleeves and has got the ball rolling," Ralston said. "Transportation means different things to different areas of the state. In the large cities, it's mass transportation; on the coast it's ports, and in rural areas it's roads and bridges.
"This state is too big and has too many competent people for us not to work together and do something beneficial to everybody."
Ralston then added that bringing jobs to the state is also a top priority.
"I know there is pain out there. I know times are tough, but I am excited about our future," he said. "Still, we have to grow ourselves out of this situation and not try to spend ourselves out of it.
"We have to ask ourselves 'What can we do differently?' and pull ourselves up with growth, not new taxes. The greatest stimulus is jobs."
To that end, Ralston said he and fellow members of the House will "completely examine how we do business in this state. When times are good people tend to get complacent," he said. "But now that times are hard, it's a perfect time to see if we can help our state's small businesses and create jobs for our citizens.
"And we are going to take up the challenge and put conservative policies in place that will move our state forward."