Former Republican Senator from Georgia to the United States, Johnny Isakson, dies

The Marietta Republican had suffered from health issues in recent years that often made him dependent on a cane or wheelchair. In 2015, as he prepared to run for a third term in the Senate, Isakson revealed he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder that left him with a significantly slower door. and random. Shortly after being re-elected in 2016, he underwent scheduled back surgery to address the deteriorating spine.

In August 2019, shortly after fracturing four ribs in a fall in his Washington apartment, Isakson announced he would retire at the end of the year with two years remaining.

In a farewell speech in the Senate, Isakson pleaded for bipartisanship in Congress at a time of bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats. He cited his long friendship with the late Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights hero, as an example of two men willing to put the party aside to work on common issues.

“Let’s fix the problem and then see what happens,” Isakson said. “Most of the people who curse people and point fingers are people who have no solution themselves. ”

The Atlanta native first ran for elected office in 1974 when he ran – and lost – a race for the Georgia House of Representatives. He succeeded two years later and served 17 years in the Georgia Legislative Assembly, with time in the House and Senate.

He suffered a few humiliating setbacks before ascending to the Senate. In 1990, he lost the race for governor to Democrat Zell Miller. In 1996, Guy Millner beat him in a Republican primary.

Many observers attributed the loss to Isakson for not being tough enough on abortion. In the race for the primaries, Isakson ran a television commercial in which he said that even though he was against government funding or promotion of abortion, he “would not vote to amend the Constitution in order to make women and their doctors of criminals “.

“I trust my wife, daughter and the women of Georgia to make the right choice,” he said.

He then changed his mind on the contentious issue. Isakson’s leap to Congress came when in 1998 the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich decided not to run again. Isakson won a special election in 1999 to occupy the suburban Atlanta seat.

He finally reached the US Senate in 2004 when he defeated Democrat Denise Majette with 58% of the vote. In the Senate, he served with Senior Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, a close friend and classmate of the University of Georgia.

Isakson was considered one of the first prohibitive favorites to succeed Republican Sonny Perdue in the governor’s mansion in 2010. But he instead opted to run for a second term in the Senate. During his time there, Isakson built a reputation as a moderate, although he rarely parted ways with his party in key votes.

He was one of the main negotiators in 2007 of compromise immigration legislation that President George W. Bush tried to pass through Congress, but was ultimately abandoned after meeting strong resistance from the law. Chambliss and Isakson were booed at a Georgia Republican Party convention that year when the immigration question arose.

Isakson supported limited school vouchers and played a major role in shaping Bush’s signature education plan, the No Child Left Behind Act. He also pushed for a compromise bill on the politically charged issue of stem cell research that would have expanded research funding while ensuring that human embryos are not harmed.

Isakson’s bill would have allowed research on cells derived from amniotic fluid and naturally dead placentas and embryos. The bill was not included in the legislative package that eventually emerged and Isakson voted against the final version of the legislation which was later opposed by President Bush.

Isakson graduated from the University of Georgia in 1966 and founded his family business, Northside Realty in Cobb County, a year later. She has grown into one of the largest independent residential real estate brokerage firms in the country during her more than 20 years at the helm. Isakson also served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966 to 1972.

He is survived by his wife Diane, whom he married in 1968, three children and nine grandchildren.


Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.

Jeff Amy and Russ Bynum, Associated Press