Now-retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks to the congregation at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Opinion: Joining Georgians in looking ahead together

This year will be my first in 20 years that I will not be making weekly trips to serve Georgians in Washington, D.C., as a member of Congress.

Instead, I will be staying much closer to home and looking for the right opportunities to make the biggest difference I can from here in Georgia.

I grew up in Atlanta, and my parents Ed and Julia raised me to be an active member of my community. They showed me how to build the types of relationships that made anywhere I spent my time feel like home. Growing up under the leadership of President Kennedy reinforced that notion and the idea that we should be asking what we can do for our country – not the other way around.

That attitude has served me well throughout my career, but more importantly, it has provided the foundation of a way of life that has helped me to get to know my neighbors, to understand problems and overcome challenges, and to appreciate hearing from all types of people. You can learn a lot just by listening, and I’ve done my best to be a real student of life and a friend to others.

As I prepared to close out my service in the U.S. Senate last month, I delivered a customary farewell speech on the Senate floor. I used the opportunity to shine a light on the good things that can happen when people of good will come together to find solutions.

Present for my speech were many of my Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle in addition to my family, staff and many of my lifelong friends. My good friend U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, was there along with several other of my Georgia colleagues in the U.S. House, and together, we presented a united front for our state and our country.

Yes, we oftentimes disagree on some issues, but we don’t close our doors. We hear each other out. We treat each other with respect. Any time I’ve wanted to get legislation passed, I want as many people on board as possible.

I’ve been so proud of the differences we have made working together for veterans as a member and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. We put aside our political armor and decided to work together to fundamentally change the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We’ve done it by working in a bipartisan manner. We put aside seeking credit and scoring political points to instead act in good faith on behalf of our veterans.

My focus in public service has always been to find ways to advance opportunities and make changes for the better, without sacrificing my core convictions. If two people agree on 80% of an issue, they shouldn’t let the 20% get in the way of the greater good.

This year is an election year. We live in a state and in a nation that are pretty special places. Our national economy is strong. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. Georgia has been named the number-one state to do business for seven years running. We have a solid foundation for a bright future.

Yes, we do have our own issues to confront here at home, including hunger, affordable housing, and crime, and we must confront them by working together.

Our Georgia government is to be commended for being well-run, careful with taxpayer dollars and remaining within the budget passed by the General Assembly. So that forces our state to be creative in a way that our federal government sometimes is not.

When I was in the real estate business and in the state legislature, I discovered how government can be a partner with individuals and job creators to lift everyone up. So in the year ahead, I look forward to seeing how our local, state and federal officials can find more ways to be supportive, responsible and future-focused. I hope to remain as involved as I can in the community that has supported me for so many years.

The minute we decide that we are going to let somebody else worry about the problems confronting our state or country, that is the minute we begin to lose it. There won’t be another America. There won’t be another place where people who want to work hard, make a living, and live in freedom will have the opportunities that America provides. We’ve got to get busy making this one the best we can.

So let’s work together to make our region, our state and our nation better. We have to come together and work hard to make sure we leave this place better off for our children and our grandchildren. They are depending on us, and I never want to let them down.

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