The Jolt: A tribute to Johnny Isakson, and an endangered version of the GOP

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Republican gubernatorial candidate Johnny Isakson works the crowd on the night he won the GOP primary, July 17, 1990, at his party headquarters at the Waverly Hotel. (John Spink / AJC Archive at GSU Library AJCP431-016g)

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Republican gubernatorial candidate Johnny Isakson works the crowd on the night he won the GOP primary, July 17, 1990, at his party headquarters at the Waverly Hotel. (John Spink / AJC Archive at GSU Library AJCP431-016g)

The contrast couldn’t have been more drastic. On Saturday, the far-right fringe of the Republican party showed up to the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry to cheer on former President Donald Trump as he wrongly claimed he won the last election and declared war on GOP leaders.

On Monday, the state’s Republican elite gathered at the Piedmont Driving Club to celebrate former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. The emotional ceremony touted the former senator’s ability to build consensus and cooperation across party lines. And it raised nearly $1 million for the Isakson Initiative to combat Parkinson’s disease.

We couldn’t help but wonder which was the future of state GOP politics: Is it the burn-it-down fervor from Saturday, fueled by Trump’s obsession with his own election defeat in Georgia?

Or will there be a pivot to the “Isakson Way,” a conservative approach that’s marked by pragmatism and cooperation?

We posed that question to Attorney General Chris Carr, who got his start in politics as an Isakson intern and eventually became his Senate chief of staff. Carr was also on the receiving end of a Trump broadside at Saturday’s rally and said it’s too early to draw a line between the 2020 GOP defeats and 2022.

“No two campaigns are ever alike. Nothing is ever going to be the same. 2020 is 2020. The runoffs in 2021 were historic. I hated to see us lose two Senate seats, I hated to see a Republican president lose. But when you’re looking at 2022, every campaign is going to be different. The issues are going to be different. The players are going to be different. And so, from my perspective, I want to focus on unifying the party. There’s too much at stake.”

On hand for the event were several of Isakson’s former Senate colleagues, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and U.S. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, along with Gov. Brian Kemp; House Speaker David Ralston; former Gov. Nathan Deal; former U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss; former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler; former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter; Joan Kirchner Carr, Isakson’s former chief of staff, and Molly Dye Franklin, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell’s longtime chief; Senate hopeful Latham Saddler; and Meagan Hanson, who is running in the Sixth Congressional District. Former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes delivered a video address.

The guest list says the Isakson Way may still have a path in Georgia politics, even if it’s a narrow one.


Georgia GOP chair David Shafer rubbed many fellow Republicans the wrong way by appearing at Donald Trump’s rally that boosted a trio of candidates ahead of heated Republican primaries.

The state party, of course, is supposed to be neutral in the races. But Shafer told WSB’s Shelley Wynter he had no qualms about speaking at the rally, where he led a chant of “audit, audit, audit” while promoting debunked conspiracies about election fraud.

“I’m confident that Republican primary voters will pick the very best ones, and I’m confident that our party will be in support of those candidates,” he told Wynter, adding that he saw his role as bringing consensus to the party.

“I want to be in position as state party chairman to try to bring everyone together next fall.”


Republican leaders of the Georgia Senate published their first proposed map ahead of the November redistricting session. The draft, released Monday night, visualizes new boundary lines for the state’s 14 congressional districts.

The map threatens Democratic U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath’s reelection chances by drawing more Republicans into the 6th District she has represented since 2019.

If the proposed map were approved by the Georgia General Assembly during a redistricting session in November, the 6th District would lose portions of left-leaning DeKalb and gain deeply conservative Forsyth County.

The neighboring 7th District, held by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, would become much safer for the Democrat. Its boundaries would shrink to be contained entirely within Gwinnett County, an increasingly liberal bastion.

But the proposed lines could also make Bourdeaux, a centrist, a juicy target for a primary challenge from a more liberal Democrat.

Other takeaways from the Senate map: It strategically draws Bourdeaux out of her own home out of her district.

It does the same to U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a freshman firebrand Republican from the outskirts of Athens. Remember, though, the law does not require congressional candidates to live in the districts where they’re running. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff did not live in the 6th District in 2017 when he ran for a House seat there.

Finally, Republican U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s northwest Georgia seat would become marginally safer by slicing off a portion that extends to Atlanta. And U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop’s largely rural 2nd District looks to remain reliably Democratic.

This map could change dramatically. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, an architect of the map, is a lame-duck whose “GOP 2.0″ vision makes him an outcast in a party still dominated by Donald Trump.

(For what it’s worth, we’re told that Duncan will most definitely not be a contender for the new 6th District seat, which includes his home in Forsyth County.)

The Legislature could yet push for more drastic changes to put both Bourdeaux and McBath on the defensive, though they have little wiggle room to do so.


More redistricting reax:

From state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain: “I’m totally disappointed in the fact that my Republican colleagues have refused to act in good faith as they said they would. They’ve released a proposal without so much as a single word to the Democratic members who serve on the redistricting and reapportionment committee. You just do not draw maps that are fair and transparent in secret.”

John Porter, an adviser to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, via Twitter: “Exhibit A: No matter what the map looks like, Democrats will cry foul. In this article Senate Dems accuse GOP of gerrymandering… but literally in the NEXT sentence they say the purported ‘gerrymandered’ district remains competitive.”

Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee: “It is a map born of arrogance and political greed. As recent election results have shown, Georgia is politically a very closely divided state. A fair map would reflect that and give voters an opportunity to elect a congressional delegation that allows for the representative balance that recent elections have warranted. Contrary to what Georgia Republicans are saying, this map unfairly consolidates or separates communities of color, fails to take the census data trends into account, insufficiently represents a diversifying Atlanta metro area and decreases the voting power of African American voters in a historic black district. This is not acceptable.”


With maps in flux through at least November, election directors across Georgia are asking the General Assembly to delay the state’s primary election date from May 24 to June 28.

Georgia Public Broadcasting first reported on the request for a delayed primary Monday. The resolution was approved Aug. 30 by the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Elections Officials at their annual conference.

It’s not immediately clear if there’s any appetite among top lawmakers for a delay. The election directors wrote in a resolution passed last month that they want a June primary date to build in time to accommodate changes created by redistricting.


The Buckhead City Committee announced the names of eleven state senators who have signed on to a bill to put a Buckhead split from Atlanta to a 2022 referendum. Along with Sens. Brandon Beach, Burt Jones, and Matt Brass, all of the senators are Republican, and none are from Buckhead or Atlanta.

Although it’s not impossible to pass locally specific legislation over the objections of a local delegation, state Rep. Betsy Holland and state Sen. Jen Jordan, the Democrats who represent Buckhead, are firmly against the idea.


An army of first-responders surrounded Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday as he announced a $1,000 bonus for more than 80,000 law enforcement officers, prison and jail guards, firefighters and EMTs.

But one statistic stood out. The president of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police told reporters that 33 officers have died in the line of duty this year. Of those, 28 deaths have been COVID-19 related.

Although mask wearing is hit-or-miss these days, none of the politicians or representatives of law enforcement and first responders at the press conference were wearing masks to guard against COVID, nor were any of their staff, at the event inside the Capitol.

That was in contrast to the House and Senate during the legislative session earlier this year, when masks were required.

Your Insiders wonder what the policy will be in November, when lawmakers return for the special session on redistricting.


The race for City Hall heated up last week with the first real debate of the Atlanta election season.

The showdown revealed the escalating tension between mayoral candidates — especially Councilman Andre Dickens and former Mayor Kasim Reed — as the race enters the final stretch before early voting starts.

The AJC’s City Hall team has the latest from the debate, the ad wars, and the last-minute sprint to win over Atlanta’s many undecided voters in this week’s Race for City Hall.


As expected, Republicans in the U.S. Senate filibustered debate on a bill that temporarily funds the federal government, along with raising the debt limit and providing money for disaster relief and Afghan refugee resettlements.

The party-line vote was 48-50, with all Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, in support. Democrats needed 60 votes to move the bill forward. The same bill passed the House last week, also on a party-line vote.

With government funding scheduled to run out Thursday, Democrats now have to decide whether to remove the debt ceiling language from the legislation to attract Republicans support — or risk a partial government shutdown and potential default if the bill remains stalled.

The federal government will reach its borrowing limit sometime in mid-October.


The U.S. House began debate on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Monday, allowing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to nearly keep her promise to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and other moderates that the House would vote on the measure by then.

The final vote is now scheduled for Thursday, even though a larger $3.5 trillion social services and climate change package is not yet ready for consideration.

The slow progress on the larger bill has liberal members of the caucus threatening to tank the infrastructure bill, which they say must only be passed in tandem with the larger package.

Party leaders, including Pelosi, President Joe Biden and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, are lobbying against tying the two bills together. But without support from both wings of their caucus, they also don’t have the votes to move forward.

The infrastructure bill passed the Senate with 19 Republican votes over the summer, but only a handful of Republicans are expected to support it in the House.


POSTED: As expected, a federal appeals court said Monday that it will hold off deciding the fate of Georgia’s 2019 anti-abortion law until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar lawsuit out of Mississippi, the AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu reports.

Until then, the current Georgia law, which bans abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy with some restrictions and exceptions, remains in effect.


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