What Others Are Saying

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Marietta Daily Journal: Yarbrough: Georgia’s Johnny Isakson puts principle above politics

As published in the Marietta Daily Journal

I come today in praise of Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s senior senator, and local boy made good. Over my long life, I have forgotten more politicians than most people have ever known, so you can take my word when I say that Johnny Isakson is one of the most principled public servants I have ever known in a profession where such traits are in scant supply.

That is why I was not surprised when he publicly criticized Donald Trump for his incessant attacks on the late Sen. John McCain, who died last August of brain cancer. Most Republicans don’t have the guts to take on this boorish president. Johnny Isakson isn’t most Republicans.

“It’s deplorable what he (Trump) said,” Isakson told an interviewer on Georgia Public Broadcasting last week. “I just want to lay it on the line, that the country deserves better, the McCain family deserves better, I don’t care if he’s president of United States, owns all the real estate in New York, or is building the greatest immigration system in the world. Nothing is more important than the integrity of the country and those who fought and risked their lives for all of us.”

Ironically, as the old beer commercial says, I feel strongly both ways. I had many dealings with John McCain during our days of planning for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. He was not a nice man. He was a mean-spirited bully. But his incarceration for 5½ years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton is the stuff of heroes.

Because McCain’s father was an admiral and commander of U.S. Pacific Command, his captors attempted to release him for propaganda purposes, but he refused until his colleagues were released as well. For that show of defiance, he was brutally beaten on numerous occasions, but he endured. I will choose to remember John McCain the military hero and not the politician. We all should, including the president.

Speaking of the Centennial Olympic Games, you may remember a major brouhaha in Cobb County when the commission adopted a thinly-disguised anti-gay resolution. We could not afford to waste precious planning time caught in the middle of a fight between gay rights supporters and anti-gays over a preliminary volleyball venue — not exactly the most important event in the Olympic Games. But the controversy was like a giant megaphone for both sides.

Gay groups were threatening to harass the Torch Relay as it made its way across the country (government intelligence agencies assured us they were serious) and U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who represented Cobb County, berated us and threatened us if we moved the venue. He was aided and abetted by conservative churches in the county. Some 270 religious leaders held a rally to let the commission know they supported the resolution and regularly denounced us from the pulpit. I sadly discovered how vile, vulgar and threatening people can be in the name of the Lord. It wasn’t some of Christianity’s best days.

Into the contentious fray stepped Cobb County state Sen. Johnny Isakson, who publicly called the resolution a “mistake” and said that rescinding it “would be the best thing they (the commission) could possibly do.” He called on both sides to lower the rhetoric and come to some common understanding. That took guts and was a huge political risk for him, but, as with his criticism of Donald Trump, he said what needed to be said.

In one of life’s great ironies, a couple of years later Newt Gingrich flamed out and resigned from Congress and was replaced by — you guessed it — Johnny Isakson. God does have a sense of humor.

In my book, “And They Call Them Games,” the only book written on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, I said of Isakson, “I predict he will be a person of great influence in that body, as he has been in Georgia and Cobb County.”

I had the right idea but the wrong body. When Zell Miller retired from the U.S. Senate, Isakson ran for the seat and won. He is now in his third term and one of the most influential members in the Senate.

But he isn’t a showboat. While taking Trump to task for continuing to denigrate a deceased senator who can’t defend himself, Sen. Isakson still managed to help get a $130 million designation placed in the president’s proposed federal budget for the dredging of the Port of Savannah.

He is also in negotiations with Trump and with Democrats about a long-overdue disaster aid package to help south Georgia farmers recover from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Michael last year. I predict he will be successful.

Whether it is saying what truly needs to be said when other politicians are running for cover, working on behalf of his constituents (his constituent services are excellent) or dealing with thorny issues like the improving service in the malfunctioning Veterans Administration, we are lucky to have Johnny Isakson representing us in Washington. He is a class act.