Dec 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Former Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson dies at 76

Johnny Isakson sits in a meeting and looks toward the camera
Sen. Johnny Isakson in February 2019. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Johnny Isakson, a former U.S. senator from Georgia and champion of bipartisanship, died Sunday morning. He was 76.

Why it matters: Isakson earned respect from Democrats and Republicans alike during his more than 40 years in elected office for his ability to hammer out bipartisan compromise.

  • Isakson's often repeated motto was: "There are only two types of people: friends and future friends."
  • Isakson pleaded for bipartisanship in his farewell address on the Senate floor: "I'm big on bipartisanship. Whether you're Black or white, Republican or Democrat, whatever it might be, find a way to find common ground. Give it a chance. And if it doesn't, be a future friend," he said.
  • "When I started my business and people wouldn't buy a house from me ... I'd say well thank you for looking with me and when you buy your next one call me and I'll do a better job. Because all I had was customers and future customers," he said.

Flashback: Isakson stepped down from the U.S. Senate in 2019 in the middle of his third term because of his advancing Parkinson’s disease.

Catch up quick: Isakson began his career in real estate development and went on to serve Georgia in the statehouse, U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

  • After his retirement, Isakson founded the Isakson Initiative to raise awareness and money for research related to neurocognitive diseases including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

What they’re saying: President Joe Biden called Isakson a "colleague and a friend," in a statement, adding that Isakson was a "proud Republican, but he put country before party, and valued building consensus over political combat.

  • "We served together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled together, and found common ground built on mutual respect for each other and the institutions that govern our nation," Biden added.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said 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."

  • "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," Kemp said.

The late Democratic Rep. John Lewis had called Isakson a "brother," a man "who has strong beliefs, but is also willing to work with others to get things done," upon Isakson's retirement in 2019.

  • "The senator does not make a lot of noise, but he has the ability, the power, the capacity to speak to power," Lewis said.
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