Former Sen. Johnny Isakson, a moderate Republican who became one of Georgia’s most popular politicians, died early Sunday. He was 76.
“It is with deep sorry that The Isakson Initiative shares that former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson passed away overnight on December 19, 2021, at age 76,” the organization, which raises funding for research on neurocognitive diseases, said in a statement on the former senator’s Twitter account. “Sen. Isakson’s family is grateful for the prayers and support. Funeral arrangements will be shared when finalized.”
Isakson’s eldest son told The Associated Press that his father died in his sleep, and that, although his father had Parkinson’s disease, the cause of death was not immediately apparent.
Isakson worked in politics for more than four decades. Even though he suffered some losses in his early years, Isakson advanced to the top to become a prominent and effective dealmaker in a divided Senate. Isakson is known for his willingness and ability to work with Democrats, even if it led to backlash by his conservative peers.
“If you had a vote in the Senate on who’s the most respected and well-liked member, Johnny would win probably 100 to nothing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution2019 “His demeanor is quite different from what most people expect of politicians.”
Isakson stated that 2015 was the year of Isakson. he had been diagnosed two years earlier with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder that affects a person’s movement, causing tremors, stiffness and loss of balance. Treatment can slow down the progression of this disease. but it is currently incurable.
In his announcement, he said that he will “handle my personal health challenge with the same transparency that I have championed throughout my career,” and that he would continue to serve in the Senate.
Three-term Senator said in 2019 that he planned to resign at the end of the year, citing his “mounting health challenges,” which included Parkinson’s, an unrelated surgery, and a fall that resulted in fractured ribs and a torn rotator cuff. Isakson said he would “not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve.”
Georgia’s congressional delegation gathered to pay tribute to Isakson, with the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) recalling the close friendship they developed over the years.
“You, senator, led a team that could cross the aisle without compromising your values. I will come over to meet you, brother,” Lewis said before walking towardIsakson, on the Republican end of the aisle. Lewis met the GOP senator halfway, and they hugged.
“Georgia has lost a giant, one of its greatest statesmen, and a servant leader dedicated to making his state and country better than he found it,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R). said in a statement on Sunday. “Johnny Isakson personified what it means to be a Georgian. … He answered the call to public service many times over his career.”
“His work to champion our veterans, deliver disaster relief for Georgia farmers after Hurricane Michael, and always stand up for Georgia’s best interest in the U.S. Senate will live on for generations to come,” the governor continued. “As a businessman and a gifted retail politician, Johnny paved the way for the modern Republican Party in Georgia, but he never let partisan politics get in the way of doing what was right.”
Atlanta is a native first made his bid for elected office in 1974 when he unsuccessfully ran for Georgia’s state House, though he succeeded two years later. He continued to be a member of the Georgia state legislature for 17 additional years.
After Isakson lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race to Democrat Zell Miller in 1990 and the GOP U.S. Senate primary to Guy Millner in 1996, fellow Republicans blamed Isakson’s loss on him not being adequately anti-abortion. Millner won the primary. Isakson ran a television advertisement in which he said that while he was against the government funding or promoting abortion, he would “not vote to amend the Constitution to make criminals of women and their doctors.”
Isakson won his seat after Newt Gingrich, Republican House Speaker, resigned following the 1998 midterms. In 2004, he ran to replace Miller — by then a senator — but faced similar attacks in the Republican primary for his stance on abortion. Isakson won this time. took a harder line on the issueHe said he wouldn’t support legal abortion except in the case of incest, rape or the protection of the mother’s life. He was victorious.
Isakson served as the chief negotiator compromise immigration legislationIn 2007, President George W. Bush attempted to pass Congress. Bush eventually abandoned the plan after Republicans made their opposition to it very clear — including booing Isakson at the Georgia Republican Party convention that year.
This lawmaker was an influential member of crafting the limited school vouchers legislation. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act. He also pushed a compromise bill on the contentious issue of stem cell research that would have expanded funding for the research while ensuring human embryos weren’t harmed — but he ultimately voted against the final version of the legislation, which Bush later vetoed.
As the chairman of both the Select Committee on Ethics (Veterans Affairs Committee) and the Select Committee on Ethics, Isakson at times clashed with President Donald Trump’s administrationConcerning veterans’ care, the senator expanded private options for veteran facing long waits and helped speed up the expulsion of bad employees from the department. Sen. also quietly rejected Trump’s nomination of Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House’s physician, to lead the VA after Jackson was accused of creating a toxic work environment– and to drink on the job.
“Senator Isakson was a statesman who served Georgia with honor,” Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) said on Sunday. “He put his state and his country ahead of self and party, and his great legacy endures.”