May 8, 2014

Neff: ‘Snake’ reference was to politics, not personal

A former campaign chairman for David Pennington said comments he made at a political gathering in Ellijay recently about the state House speaker’s late father were in reference to that man’s politics and were not personal.

Dalton resident Phil Neff spoke in support of Pennington, the former Dalton mayor who is challenging Gov. Nathan Deal in the May 20 Republican primary, at a political event in Ellijay on Sunday. During the event Neff made some comments about House Speaker David Ralston, who is running for re-election in District 7 in the Republican primary. Several candidates and political figures, including Sam Snider, who is challenging Ralston in the primary, attended the event, according to a political blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Ralston — I’ve known David Ralston — I knew his dad in the Georgia Republican Party. He was a snake from the word go. David is the same way,” Neff is quoted as saying.

The comments met with criticism in the blog Political Insider and on political website Peach Pundit. Neff said he’s gotten some backlash from the comment about Ralston’s deceased father, Willard Ralston, a former clerk of court in Gilmer County and an active leader in the Republican Party.

Neff stressed the comments weren’t on behalf of Pennington’s campaign.

“I do regret saying (that) against an individual that has already passed on ...” Neff said. “I did not mean for that to reflect upon his personal character. I’m talking from a political standpoint.”

Neff said the comments were in reference to Willard Ralston’s leadership in the Republican Party, which he believes diverged from party principles Willard Ralston said he would uphold, and what he said is similar behavior from David Ralston.

Pennington, who was at the event, said he didn’t know Willard Ralston.

“I’m running for governor,” Pennington said. “(Neff’s comments) had nothing to do with me. That had nothing to do with my campaign, any of that.”

Neff said his comments regarding that race, as well as some comments he made regarding Deal, were made after he was given a chance to speak at the event. Someone in attendance recorded the comments and provided the recording to Political Insider, according to the blog.

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