Johnny Isakson is stepping down from his service in the U.S. Senate at the end of the year, citing health issues.
“I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff,” Isakson said in a statement. “... In my 40 years in elected office, I have always put my constituents and my state of Georgia first. With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve. It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”
Isakson said his Parkinson’s disease has been progressing, and he recently had surgery to remove a growth on his kidney. He will return to Washington D.C. Sept. 9 when the Senate goes back into session, and he said he hopes to help people looking for a cure for Parkinson’s after he leaves office Dec. 31.
Isakson’s Senate term ends in 2022, and there will be three years left in the term when he vacates the seat in December. There will be a special election on Nov. 3, 2020, and Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement until then, according to the Governor’s Office.
Isakson, 74, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, according to the news release from his office. In July, he fell at his D.C. apartment and suffered four fractured ribs and a torn rotator cuff. On Monday, Aug. 26, he underwent surgery at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta to remove a 2-centimeter renal cell carcinoma from one of his kidneys.
In statements Wednesday, officials praised Isakson’s leadership and wished him good health.
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, thanked Isakson for his service in a statement Wednesday.
“The loss of Johnny Isakson from public life will leave a void in Georgia which is beyond comprehension. While I respect his reasons, I feel a tremendous sense of personal sadness — Johnny is a mentor, role model and friend,” Ralston said. “Over a distinguished career in the Georgia House, Georgia State Senate, State Board of Education, U.S. House and U.S. Senate, Johnny Isakson demonstrated that civility and reasonableness are virtues that will never go out of style.”
Kemp said he and his wife Marty valued the friendship of Isakson and his wife Dianne.
“No one embodies the heart and soul of Georgia more than Johnny Isakson," Kemp said in a statement. “Our state and country have been immeasurably blessed by his leadership in the Georgia General Assembly, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate. Senator Isakson’s list of accomplishments on behalf of the state that he loves is long and revered, but what Georgia should be most thankful for is the high standard that Johnny held as a true gentleman, a fighter for his constituents, a trusted advocate for our nation’s veterans, and one of the greatest statesmen to ever answer the call of service to our country.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, also thanked Isakson.
“Johnny Isakson has been a standard of public service and statesmanship for decades in Georgia. He’s always drawn on his extensive roots in our state to deepen his advocacy for all Georgians,” Collins said in a statement. “Johnny faithfully remembers the forgotten, including America’s veterans. I’ve looked up to him as a mentor and still work to emulate him.”
And State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, also reflected on Isakson’s career.
“Senator Isakson is a true statesman whose leadership and effective representation have made our country and the state of Georgia a better place,” Miller posted on social media. “It has truly been an honor to work with and befriend Senator Isakson, his family, and his staff during my time in public office, and I will forever be grateful for their friendship.”
Miller said Isakson had been notable for his effectiveness and his ability to bring people together despite their disagreements.
“He’s a classic example of the elected official that was worried about the next generation, not the next election. … That’s what makes him special. He was always thinking the long game,” Miller said in an interview with The Times.
Isakson is the only Georgian to have been elected to the state House, state Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. His political career began in 1974, and he served in the Georgia General Assembly for 17 years. In 1997, then-Gov. Zell Miller appointed him as chairman of the Georgia Board of Education, and in 1999, he was elected to the U.S. House for the first of three terms. He was elected to his first term in the U.S. Senate in 2004, then won re-election in 2010 and 2016.
Isakson was a co-author of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was passed in 2014 and supports and streamlines federal workforce development programs. He also introduced legislation that has compensated the victims of the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were taken hostage in 1979 and held for two years. He introduced the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2011 and offers protections for Peace Corps volunteers. It is named after Kate Puzey, a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Cumming who was murdered in 2009.
Isakson, himself a Georgia Air National Guard veteran, became chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2015. He is also chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Under Isakson’s leadership, the Veterans Affairs committee has passed several pieces of legislation that have been signed into law, including the VA Mission Act, which provided health care reform for veterans.
He lives in Marietta and has more than 40 years of experience in real estate.