Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican who succeeded Newt Gingrich in the United States House of Representatives, and was a moderate conservative in the Senate for 15 years, often in favor of bipartisan cooperation until his resignation for health reasons in 2019, died on Sunday at his home in Atlanta . He was 76.
His death was confirmed by the Isakson Initiative, which he founded to raise money for research into neurocognitive diseases. It gave no cause, but when he stepped down, Senator Isakson had mentioned progressive Parkinson’s disease and surgery to remove a growth on a kidney.
Mr. Isakson made a fortune as a property manager before entering politics at the age of 32. He served in the Georgia legislature for 17 years, losing one race for governor and another to succeed Senator Sam Nunn, a retiring Democrat who had been in office for 25 years. year. As a consolation, the governor appointed Mr. Isakson as head of the state board of education. It seemed that his political career was over.
But Mr. Gingrich, the Georgia mercurial House speaker, has faced a revolt in his caucus over the midterm elections losses. He resigned as speaker and announced that he would not be taking his seat for an 11th term starting in January 1999. A month later, Mr. Isakson, much loved in the state for his legislative and educational work, won a special election and took Gingrich’s seat.
In the House, Mr. Isakson joined the Education Committee and became a strong supporter of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to test and shut down all elementary and middle school students. gaps in reading and math performance. Photographed with the president in the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One, he quickly became a national notable.
Confirming his growing popularity, Mr. Isakson won re-election to his first full term in 2000 with 75 percent of the vote and his second term in 2002 with 80 percent.
In 2003 a new opportunity presented itself. Senator Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat and former governor, chose not to be re-elected. Mr. Isakson jumped into the race and easily defeated Democratic candidate, Representative Denise Majette, for a Senate seat.
“Johnny Isakson’s decisive election to the United States Senate completes Republican victory over Georgia, giving the state two Republican senators for the first time in modern history,” according to Georgia Trend Magazine. “Respected among Democrats and Republicans alike, cut from the same cloth as longtime Senator Sam Nunn, he has a reputation for being a hard-working bridge builder who would rather spend his time finding common ground than differences.”
Certainly, Mr. Isakson voted with his conservative Republican allies in the vast majority of Senate appeals. He opposed the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, and defended gun rights. He identified with opponents of abortion and made a dramatic entrance into the Senate in 2017 in a wheelchair to cast a decisive vote against the funding of Planned Parenthood. He voted for most of President Donald J. Trump’s cabinet choices.
But his exceptions to the conservative line, though far fewer in number, were often striking. When he refuted his party in 2010, he and a dozen other Republican senators helped ratify a strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated by the Obama administration with Russia. It halved the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers on both sides.
Normally a reserved Republican, Mr. Isakson was often at odds with Mr. Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign, mainly because of his refusal to distance himself from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
As the nation paid tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 2018 national holiday, members of the King family gathered at his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and denounced Mr. Trump, who had often used what was widely considered racist utterance and had used shocking terms just days earlier to denounce Haiti. and African countries.
Mr. Isakson called it a day in a statement to “report the leadership and wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. honor and remember whose legacy continues to make a positive difference in the lives of many people in our state and around the world.” As for Mr Trump’s comments about Haiti and African countries, he said, “That’s not the kind of statement that the leader of the free world should make, and he should be ashamed of himself.”
In March 2019, seven months after the death of Senator John McCain, Mr. Trump was still carrying out posthumous attacks on the Arizona maverick who had been a naval pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years. Before a military audience in Lima, Ohio, Mr. Trump, who had never served in the military, blamed him for “a war in the Middle East that McCain pushed too hard.”
“It’s unfortunate what he said,” Mr. Isakson told Georgia Public Broadcasting. “It will be regrettable in seven months if he says it again, and I will continue to speak out.”
A few months later, Mr. Isakson announced that he would resign from his Senate seat at the end of 2019, halfway through his third term, for health reasons.
He had been a dominant voice in pushing through a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the veterans’ health system, and in efforts to resolve partisan battles over allocating emergency funding for several natural disasters in 2018. And he remained popular with voters—re-elected. with no opposition in 2010, and in 2016 with 55 percent of the vote – and with his Senate colleagues.
“Johnny is not only a diligent and successful lawmaker, he is one of the kindest, most thoughtful Senators,” Democratic leader New York Senator Chuck Schumer said after Mr. Isakson announced his resignation. “No matter what party or politics, everyone will miss Johnny.”
John Hardy Isakson was born on December 28, 1944 in Atlanta to Edwin and Julia (Baker) Isakson. His father founded Northside Realty in Atlanta, which grew into one of the most successful real estate companies in the country.
After high school, Johnny received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in 1966. He then established the first Cobb County branch of his father’s real estate company. In 1979, he became president of the company, a position he held for 22 years.
In 1968 he married Dianne Davison. They had three children: John, Julie and Kevin. They all survive him, as do nine grandchildren.
He served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 14 years from 1976 to 1990, and three years in the state Senate from 1993 to 1996. His family attended a Methodist church and he taught Sunday school for 30 years.
A social highlight of his Senate years was an annual barbecue lunch he hosted for colleagues on both sides of the aisle. When his 20-year term in Washington ended in December 2019, a deluge of tributes from voters and Senate colleagues prompted an opinion from Mr. Isakson.
“I’m big on duality,” he said. “Whether you’re black or white, Republican or Democrat, whatever it is, find a way to find common ground. Give it a chance to work.
“Two parties,” he added, is “a state of being.”