Given the force and direction of the nation’s political winds, it may be a long time before we see another Johnny Isakson. If ever.
Georgia’s senior U.S. senator became the focus of state and national political attention last week with the surprise announcement that he will be resigning at year’s end due to mounting health problems. We understand the necessity of his leaving, but we sure hate to see him go.
For those who monitor the whims of state politics, it is almost impossible to overstate the political significance of Isakson’s decision. The jockeying to replace Isakson will have a domino effect throughout state political circles, pushing up the timetable for some would-be candidates, derailing long-made plans for others, creating new opportunities if candidates already in office decide to run for the nation’s most exclusive political body.
Isakson’s departure means Gov. Brian Kemp will have an opportunity to appoint someone to replace the departing senator, and there is no shortage of hopefuls who would gladly shift their political focus to Washington if asked by the governor to do so. It is one of the biggest decisions Kemp will make in his first year of office, and one that could have long-lasting impact.
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Ultimately, a special election will be held in 2020 to fill the remainder of Isakson’s term, setting the stage for the very rare reality that next year the state will elect both of its U.S. senators at one time rather than in staggered elections. Candidates are already lining up to challenge incumbent David Perdue for the other Senate seat.
Expect to be bombarded with political news and speculation in the weeks to come as candidates line up, supporters forge and shift allegiances, incumbents forsake their offices to offer for something more prestigious, and the banners of both the Republican and Democratic parties wave relentlessly from one corner of the state to the other.
With two senatorial elections at one time, Georgia may well become the national epicenter of next year’s partisan election storm.
But there will be plenty of time for us to become immersed in the election cycle ahead. Before we get there, we need to pause and reflect on the legacy of the state’s departing senior senator.
In Washington, Isakson has proven to be that rare performer on the national political stage who has accomplished what many decry as impossible — building bridges between diverse groups and defending a functional middle ground built on principled compromise rather than partisan bickering.
He has sided with President Trump when he was comfortable doing so and criticized the president when he found himself on the other side of an issue. He has chided Democrats for political posturing and worked with them to move legislation forward. He has focused more on governing than on politicking and as a result proven successful at both.
Democrats and Republicans alike were quick to sing a chorus of Isakson’s praises when news of his upcoming resignation became known, a rare reality on the increasingly divisive political battleground of Washington.
In the Senate, he is chairman of both the Veterans Affairs and Ethics committees. That he is the only senator chairing two of that chamber’s committees is indicative of the respect in which he is held by his colleagues — that one of those is the Ethics commission, a reflection of his personal integrity.
Those of us who have watched Isakson through the years have not been surprised that he has been capable of finding an effective middle ground of moderate Republican leadership. We’ve watched it for a long time through an amazingly effective political career.
Johnny Isakson is the only person in Georgia history to have served in the state House, the state Senate, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. In addition, he served as chairman of the state Board of Education after being appointed to the position by Gov. Zell Miller. In a political career that has spanned more than 40 years, he has been involved in issues impacting every level of government service from small to large and has consistently performed with distinction.
Never one to seek the political spotlight, Isakson has proven himself a tireless worker committed to quality governance rather than personal attention. He has worked on foundational issues that often do not garner a lot of media attention — infrastructure, domestic and international tax codes, veterans’ issues.
In recent years, he has been particularly effective in making gains for the nation’s veterans, leading the charge for improved benefits, better health care, educational and job opportunities.
His website describes Isakson as following a philosophy of “people before politics,” and his distinguished legacy of service to the state and nation bears out the truth of that statement. He is one of the last of a disappearing breed, a thoughtful, rational moderate who values logic and common sense above emotional rhetoric and extremist positions.
We could use a lot more Johnny Isaksons in positions of power in our country; unfortunately we will soon have one less.