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House speaker visits Albany

Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, gives a tour of the Georgia Health Sciences University Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, Wednesday during his stop in Albany.

Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, gives a tour of the Georgia Health Sciences University Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, Wednesday during his stop in Albany.

ALBANY, Ga. — For the first time, the current presiding officer for the Georgia House of Representatives got a taste of the Good Life City.

State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, invited Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, to visit Albany.

“We’ve had a couple of sessions that I’ve been proud of,” the speaker said during his visit. “We’ve balanced our budgets without a tax increase, and we’ve made a good bit of progress on tax reform.

“But we’ve got a lot of work yet to be done.”

The visit included a tour of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s clinical campuses. While at Phoebe, the legislators toured the Georgia Health Sciences University Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus and the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus — both based at a learning center located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street.

It was Ralston’s first opportunity to come into the Albany area since becoming speaker. He also met with The Albany Herald Editorial Board during his visit on Wednesday.

During that meeting, he addressed the issue of redistricting — particularly as a legislator that represents a rural district.

“It’s important to me that rural Georgia gets fair representation,” Ralston said. “Redistricting is always a challenging process.

“At the end of the day, it is a fair process. There are things that people would have liked to have done differently, but it was done fairly.”

Aside from the state’s budget situation, something else currently getting buzz is the 2012 ballot referendums that would allow for a 1 percent increase in sales tax to fund strategic transportation infrastructure projects over the next 10 years — known as T-SPLOST.

One advantage of the potential T-SPLOST is that local officials and citizens — those considered to be most knowledgeable about a region’s needs — are the ones putting the project lists together for people to be able to cast their votes on.

“Every region will be deciding on its own future,” Ralston said. “Transportation means different things depending on where you are in Georgia. For rural areas it means economic development, while for metro Atlanta it means traffic congestion.

“That is the beauty of the regional approach that we took.”

Ralston was elected to the Georgia State Senate in 1992 and served until 1998 when he won the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Georgia. In 2002, Ralston was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. He now represents the 7th District, which includes Fannin and Gilmer counties as well as a portion of Dawson County.

He did not leave Albany without addressing the water issue plaguing Georgia, Alabama and Florida — which has continued to be on Georgians’ minds as the lakes and rivers in the state have continued to get lower.

“I’m hopeful this administration will bring new vigor to these negotiations,” Ralston said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in working out our differences, and we’ve made enough progress that there is a high degree of possibility we will get (a resolution).”

As a member of the state House, Ralston chaired the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee, was vice-chair of the Judiciary committee, and also served on the Appropriations, Rules, Transportation and Governmental Affairs committees.

Rynders, of District 152, vice chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee and serves on the Appropriations Committee. Due to the redistricting process that took place based on data from the 2010 Census, Rynders would no longer represent a portion of Dougherty County.

That was something else the speaker addressed.

“I know he enjoyed representing Dougherty County,” Ralston said of his colleague. “He represented the county very vigorously. I suspect he will continue to advocate for (the citizens of Dougherty) even though it is no longer his district because that’s how he is.”