U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson: Washington, D.C. could learn from Georgia businesses
The first time I met Johnny Isakson was at the old Green Jacket restaurant in downtown Macon in 1996. I both chaired the College Republicans at Mercer and was the chairman of the Georgia Federation of College Republicans. Isakson, then in the Georgia Senate, was running for the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Sam Nunn, to the tune of “Rock the Boat, Johnny,” a campaign lyric in his ads.
I vividly remember this meeting because he and I sat next to each other and, in the middle of the conversation, he paused, smiled, and pointed out the window. It was the end of March in Macon and it had begun to snow. Nothing stuck, but it was a rare flurry.
Isakson did not win that time. He actually lost the Republican primary to Guy Milner who, in turn, lost to then Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland. After the election, Gov. Zell Miller appointed Isakson to the state school board. In 1999, Isakson won a special election for Newt Gingrich’s congressional seat in the 6th Congressional District before successfully entering the U.S. Senate in 2005 to succeed Miller.
Now Isakson, suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease, is leaving the Senate instead of standing for re-election in 2022. Let me just say this about the man — I am more conservative than Isakson and I have always liked Isakson. A man without pretension, Isakson has never posed as something other than he was. He makes no bones about liking low taxes, conservative judges and moderation in tone. He has devoted himself, even now, to fixing problems with the VA.
Isakson, like Paul Coverdell who once sat in his Senate chair, does not operate in the song and dance spectacle of modern American politics. Isakson operates behind the scenes. It is one reason so many Democrats have praised a man who voted for both Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. If Isakson makes a promise, he keeps that promise. He does not over promise, but often outperforms his colleagues who would rather dance on Fox News and MSNBC.
The seat Isakson holds has been held by Miller, Coverdell, Mack Mattingly and Walter F. George. First held by William Few, a participant in the Constitutional Convention, Isakson’s seat was also held by Rebecca Latimer Felton, the first female United States Senator. Now Brian Kemp has the opportunity to replace Isakson.
Under Georgia law, whoever the Gov. Brian Kemp appoints will stand in the general election in 2020, which means both of Georgia’s Senate seats will be on the ballot. Whoever wins that election would then only serve the remainder of Isakson’s term, then must stand for re-election in 2022. Should Kemp choose an elected official to take Isakson’s seat, that would then trigger a special election for that seat in November. Both the special election for Isakson’s seat and this other seat would be “jungle primaries.” That means that everyone who qualifies, regardless of party, would all be on one ballot. This makes Republicans nervous because Democrats could work to put only two Democrats on the ballot against numerous Republicans to improve their chances.
The odds are the race will go to a runoff. My suggestion is the governor avoid the usual suspects, the statewide office holders, and the congressmen. Find an out of the box pick. Kemp has shown a willingness to make bold, diverse nominations. Now he has a real opportunity to shine and potentially forge a long-term relationship with the Hispanic community, too.
Erick Erickson is host of the Erick Erickson Show heard across Georgia.