Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol on July 9th, 2019. Isakson announced on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, that he will resign his seat at the end of the year. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)
Photo: ANNA MONEYMAKER
Photo: ANNA MONEYMAKER

Opinion: Sen. Isakson; honest, a good friend, an American hero

As the scramble for Johnny Isakson’s Senate seat picks up, now is the time to reflect on a good man’s service to his country.

To react to the Isakson news by debating his successors does a grave disservice to the man who has set an impossible standard for any successor to follow. Whoever Johnny’s successor turns out to be, he or she will will struggle to fill those shoes.

I know because I’ve been a close friend of Johnny’s since the 1980s, and we’ve had many an honest conversation behind closed doors. When I first became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, Johnny took it upon himself to explain how the House functioned, who to meet, and where to look for help. He personally welcomed me to Congress, like a family welcoming their guests for a biscuit and gravy breakfast.

Knowing Johnny, we must all send him and his family our prayers. Parkinson’s disease is a daily struggle, and they need Georgia’s support now more than ever. He, of all people, possesses the mental fortitude to keep fighting day-in and day-out, but only with the support of those who benefited from his life’s work.

It is rare for one’s work to impact so many lives. For a third consecutive term, Johnny serves as chairman of both the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and he remains the only Republican in the Senate chairing two committees. Indeed, Johnny is one of America’s most respected Senators, among Republicans and even Democrats.

His unparalleled stature on the Senate floor is a culmination of decades in public service. After all, this is a man who has served Georgians since the 1970s. Johnny became a member of the Georgia House of Representatives in 1976, eventually rising to the rank of Republican Minority Leader. He then served in the Georgia State Senate for four years, before Capitol Hill welcomed him in 1999.

Since then, he has advanced our state’s interests — and the country’s writ large — in the House and Senate, promoting his own Georgia values but also reaching across the aisle to change American lives for the better. Even if you disagree with Johnny on policy, as I have at times in the past, you can’t help but like and respect him.

While in Congress, Johnny has sponsored more than 180 pieces of legislation—over 180 separate attempts to improve the lives of everyday Americans. Some inevitably failed to gain traction, but many succeeded in reforming outdated federal laws.

In 2017 and 2018 alone, under Isakson’s leadership, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA) passed 25 bills, all of which have been signed into law. Its landmark legislation, the VA MISSION Act, has enacted some of the most significant reforms to the VA’s healthcare delivery system in history, providing veterans with more choice and fewer barriers to care. Such reforms are potentially life-saving for the over 700,000 veterans who call Georgia home.

At the same time, Johnny has remained committed to strengthening our armed forces by regularly supporting increases in defense spending and investments in technological innovation. In Johnny’s words: “We are helping our warfighters and their families, investing in the warfare of the future and fortifying global partnerships.

In this way, Johnny never lost sight of his purpose on Capitol Hill — to make the world a better place. Nor did he lose touch with those depending on him. During much of his time in Washington, D.C., Johnny made it a point to go home on weekends and meet with Georgians in person, to hear from them directly. He understands that elected officials answer to their constituents first and foremost, and must work tirelessly to address their concerns.

And, that, Johnny always did. Now, it’s our turn to pray for his health and honor his legacy.

Johnny Isakson deserves that more than anyone I know.

Dr. Paul Broun represented Georgia’s 10th congressional district from 2007 to 2015.

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