What Others Are Saying

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Savannah Morning News: Editorial: Isakson a politician worth emulating

As published in the Savannah Morning News

Sen. Johnny Isakson’s surprise retirement announcement has more layers than a Labor Day weekend party bean dip.

Who will Gov. Brian Kemp appoint to fill Isakson’s seat until a successor is chosen in the November 2020 special election?

Who and how many will be in that 2020 Senate race?

Does Isakson’s retirement put the Republicans hold on that post -- and possibly majority control of the Senate -- in jeopardy?

Does it make Sen. David Perdue, whose first term is up next year, more vulnerable?

All are valid discussion points, and the debate has been raging since Isakson made public his plans last Wednesday. But we must look back before we look ahead -- and hopefully take away a few lessons in the process.

Georgia is losing a superb leader, a man who has served the state with courage, wisdom and an extraordinary sense of decency. He is among the architects of the rise of the Republican party in this state but is that rare politician who has always sought to represent all his constituents, regardless of their political affiliation or who they voted for in the last election.

Isakson is unafraid to speak truth to power, as President Donald Trump learned earlier this year. He’s unwavering in his pursuit of what is right and has earned the unilateral respect to produce results.

At a time in American politics when it’s unfashionable to seek common ground with peers from across the aisle, he’s done so in the name of legislative compromise. Our military veterans in particular have benefited from his efforts. And he’s lobbied, albeit unsuccessfully, for an immigration system overhaul and for ways to end or avoid government shutdowns.

Isakson is a quiet influence within his own party and has stood for pragmatic solutions on divisive issues. He’s been a source of hope for centrist voters discouraged by the political polarization of the last decade.

Within Georgia’s Capitol Hill delegation, he’s been a bridge across a deepening partisan chasm and in doing so has protected the state’s interests. Sen. Perdue and several GOP House members, particularly Doug Collins, have embraced Trump’s policies and shown reluctance to criticize the president’s behavior.

On the other side of the political divide, Reps. Lucy McBath and John Lewis are among the nation’s more partisan Democrats.

Isakson’s steady head balances those two extremes.

Delivering for Savannah

Isakson’s legislative gravitas has long been a boon for Savannah.

He was the linchpin a deal with the Trump administration that secured record funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The deepening should be completed by 2021 because of it.

Isakson has also been a key player on defense issues and helped shield Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, not to mention other installations around the state, from deep cuts and even closures.

As the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he’s shepherded more than two dozen pieces of legislation into law. Those reforms have benefited thousands of former military personnel living locally.

Isakson likewise leveeraged his influence to ensure a professional administrator became Secretary of Veteran Affairs rather than see the post be filled by a lesser qualified individual who was owed a political favor.

An inevitable end to a great career

Isakson’s pending retirement is a bitter reminder of human mortality.

He is leaving the Senate over concerns for his health, not out of frustration with the political climate or a sense that he’s accomplished all he’d wanted for Georgia’s citizens. Leaving “goes against every fiber of my being,” he said.

Yet Isakson’s retirement announcement was shocking only in its abruptness. He is 74 years old and is increasingly plagued by the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.

He fell at his Washington, D.C. residence earlier this year, breaking four ribs and tearing a rotator cuff. We learned last week that he’d recently had a malignant growth removed from a kidney.

We knew Isakson’s end as a public servant was coming. His term was set to expire in 2022, and while he’d expressed interest in running for re-election, few expected him to do so. But then Washington needs statesmen like Isakson, so we all rooted for him -- rooted for us.

Now, we can only hope Isakson’s successor embodies some of the senator’s qualities.

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https://www.savannahnow.com/opinion/20190831/editorial-isakson-politician-worth-emulating