Johnny Isakson opts out of TV debate, cites rival's criminal past

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has opted out of the only statewide televised debate with Republican challengers. In part, he’s blaming the criminal history of one of his rivals.

The Atlanta Press Club/Georgia Public Broadcasting debate was to be taped Friday afternoon and aired Sunday, May 8. Yes, Mother's Day.

"The Isakson campaign was not consulted about the timing of the debate and unfortunately, Senator Isakson has a scheduling conflict,” said Heath Garrett, Isakson’s longtime political advisor. But Garrett also added this: “Senator Isakson also will not be appearing at debates and forums with a convicted felon."

That was a reference to Derrick Grayson, the libertarian-minded Republican challenger who on Monday declared that Isakson is colluding with Gov. Nathan Deal – that the incumbent senator’s bout with Parkinson’s disease would prevent him from serving a full six-year term, handing Deal an opportunity to place one of his own supporters in the post.

In his 2014 race for the U.S. Senate, ultimately won by David Perdue, Grayson made mention of his past – though not the specifics of a 1990 cocaine conviction. In a note to Aaron Gould Sheinin, our fellow Insider, Grayson said this:

“I was guilty of possession, not trafficking. I have spoken candidly about this in many videos, in outreach programs to disadvantaged youth, in churches and to the homeless. While it is not a badge of honor, but shame, my openness about it was used as a tool to show others that with God, all obstacles can be overcome with commitment and determination….

”My crime was over 25 years ago and I was pardoned. I am fully legal, in possession of all of my constitutional rights and I am a card carrying handgun concealed license holder.”

The Isakson campaign also brought up several bankruptcies on Grayson’s part. Said the challenger: “Trump filed more bankruptcies than I.”

On the Democratic side, we're told that all three candidates for U.S. Senate have agreed to participate, including Jim Barksdale, founder of an equity firm who was recruited by party leaders.


Thomas Jefferson is getting quite a work-out in Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto messages. Last month, we pointed you to the Jeffersonian subtext in Deal’s explanation for his veto of HB 757, the “religious liberty” bill.

In his Tuesday veto of “campus carry” legislation, the governor again reached out to the author of the Declaration of Independence – who himself recommended that firearms be barred from the campus of the university he founded. Wrote Deal:

Perhaps the most enlightening evidence of the historical significance of prohibiting weapons on a college campus is found in the minutes of October 4, 1824, Board of Visitors of the newly created University of Virginia. Present for that meeting were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, along with four other members. In that meeting of the Board of Visitors, detailed rules were set forth for the operation of the University which would open several months later. Under the rules relating to the conduct of students, it provided that "No student shall, within the precincts of the University, introduce, keep or use any spirituous or venomous liquors, keep or use weapons or arms of any kind..."

The approval of these specific prohibitions relating to "campus carry" by the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the principal author of the United States Constitution should not only dispel any vestige of Constitutional privilege but should illustrate that having college campuses free of weapons has great historical precedent.


Within a few short hours on Tuesday night, the GOP race for president was transformed into a settled matter. Donald Trump will top the ticket. Republicans quietly shook their heads and began to fall in line. Democrats chortled at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton romp over Donald Trump this fall. Over at his Crystal Ball, Larry Sabato warned against over-confidence. In part:

Clinton can lose if she and her team smugly take victory for granted. You are halfway to losing when you think you can’t lose. Students of President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign against the doomed Barry Goldwater recognize that LBJ wouldn’t let his lieutenants rest on favorable polls; he ran a superb if brutal effort against Goldwater, and never let up. Much the same was true for President Richard Nixon in 1972. While he and his team schemed to insure George McGovern became his opponent, using dirty tricks against some of McGovern’s Democratic foes, Nixon had tasted defeat and near-defeat too often in his career to rest easy for even a day.


Meanwhile, over at the American Spectator, we have a large photograph of former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and this headline: “This Is the Veep to Complete Trump’s Transformation of the GOP.” A taste:

The fact is that Trump’s young, minority bench of potential running mates would all be either too green, too reluctant, or both, to serve as assets on the campaign trail. Furthermore, they would all get butchered by a hostile press, to the point that Trump might actually insult people skeptical of him more by picking people who would be made to look like such poor examples of their own kind. Trump doesn’t need someone who people will see as a useful idiot, or (as is likely) a useless one. He needs someone who can effortlessly make the case for his policies, match the Left blow for blow, and make himself as impossible to dismiss as Trump himself, particularly to any skeptical conservative holdouts.


Lauren “Bubba” McDonald has been Donald Trump’s highest-ranking supporter in Georgia – but will have to celebrate his candidate’s victory in Indiana -- and beyond -- rather quietly. His son, Lauren McDonald III, reports on Facebook that his dad, a member of the state Public Service Commission, will have major back surgery today at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.


Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Tuesday's vetoes was legislation inspired by former President Jimmy Carter's bout with cancer.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 965 — dubbed the Honorable Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Access Act - which allows more cancer patients in Georgia to receive the same treatment that helped Carter recover from his cancer.

The bill would restrict insurance companies from limiting coverage of drugs for Stage 4 cancer patients. It says any insurance company that offers health care plans in Georgia cannot deny them more advanced treatment programs like the one that helped Carter. It  would only apply to health plans that cover the treatment of advanced, metastatic cancer, which typically involves Stage 4 patients in which cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The 91-year-old Carter announced in August that doctors found four small melanoma lesions on his brain, and that he would undergo treatment at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University using the drug pembrolizumab as well as radiation therapy. In early December, Carter announced that tests showed no sign of the cancer in his body.


The Georgia GOP has a new state finance chair to help shore up its bank account. Robert Hennessy was tapped as the new finance chief after Bert Guy stepped down to run for a superior court judgeship.

Former congressman Jack Kingston, who is helping the party raise cash, signaled his approval in a statement he sent our way. "Robert represents the next generation of dynamic, hardworking Republicans," he said. "He is connected with the business community and not afraid make the phone calls."


U.S. Sen. David Perdue has been under the spotlight recently for his opposition to federal criminal justice legislation, most recently from FreedomWorks. Yesterday the freshman got back-up from the head of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys over at

"Senator Perdue and the other senators who have opposed the SRCA should be commended for protecting the integrity of the federal criminal justice system—a system that works as designed and removes the worst criminals from our streets," wrote Steve Cook, the association's president who is also  chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee. 

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...