Thoughts on Isakson’s retirement

Published 6:08 pm Thursday, November 14, 2019

I ran across a piece recently entitled: “Johnny Isakson: Living His Values.” That, he has done. As he leaves the U.S. Senate and some 40 years of public service, I doubt we will see his equal anytime soon.

I make no apologies for my admiration for this good man. He has been my friend for the better part of three decades. 

Most media-political “friendships” are built on a what-can-you-do-for-me platform. Not ours.

In our long association, Johnny Isakson has never asked a favor and I have only asked once. Social Security screwed up the account of his most-favorite constituent in the whole wide world — the Woman Who Shares My Name. I didn’t call him. 

I called his staff and the matter was resolved quickly. (An aside: The Woman Who Shares My Name cares about politics about as much as I care for broccoli, but she really loves her senator.)

With Johnny Isakson, what you see is what you get: A man who has always done what he thought was the right thing to do, not what was politically expedient. 

He has supported Donald Trump when he agreed with him and criticized him in no uncertain terms when he thought the president had overstepped the bounds.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, he publicly criticized Trump for his incessant attacks on the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died of brain cancer. Most Republicans don’t have the guts to take on the president. Johnny Isakson isn’t most Republicans.

“It’s deplorable what (Trump) said,” Isakson told an interviewer on Georgia Public Broadcasting. “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.”

Then a couple of weeks ago, Isakson signed onto a GOP-backed resolution condemning House Democrats for their “unprecedented and undemocratic” impeachment inquiry of the president.

By those two actions, I am sure he managed to offend wingnuts on both ends of the political spectrum who couldn’t find the middle if you gave them a compass, a road map and detailed instructions. Voting your conscience will do that.

You’ve read it before, but it bears repeating. During my days in the planning for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, we were dealing with a highly politicized issue in Cobb County on whether to move an insignificant preliminary volleyball venue because of a county commission “Family Values” resolution (read: anti-gay) and protests from both sides of the issue.

Gay rights groups wanted the venue moved. Local politicians did not. The county’s Christian Right (which wasn’t very Christian) thundered at us from the Sunday pulpits. The committee’s decision was more sanguine: How much time and effort was a preliminary volleyball venue worth on our time-constricted plate? Not much.

At the height of the controversy, one man — Johnny Isakson, then a state senator in Cobb County — stepped up and publicly called the resolution a mistake and urged that it be rescinded. That took guts and could have been political suicide, but he ended up succeeding Newt Gingrich in Congress and then moved on to the U.S. Senate, following Zell Miller’s retirement where he is now in his third term. Some suicide.

I have written a number of columns over the years about Johnny Isakson. I have been trying to decide how to end this one. 

Then I remembered a quote the late Hall of Fame baseball player, Roberto Clemente, who said, “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” 

Johnny, my friend, you have not wasted a day.