U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, on Wednesday announced he plans to retire at the end of the year, with three years left in his term. He cited declining health as the reason.
Isakson, 74, notified Gov. Brian Kemp of his decision and made the news public at mid-morning.
“After much prayer and consultation with my family and my doctors, I have made the very tough decision to leave the U.S. Senate at the end of this year. I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff,” Isakson said in a written statement.
Isakson said his Parkinson’s has been progressing, he is continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July, and this week he had surgery to remove a growth on his kidney.
“In my 40 years in elected office, I have always put my constituents and my state of Georgia first. With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve. It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”
The news spread quickly and drew tributes to Isakson’s service from elected officials in Cherokee County.
“He is a steady hand at the wheel, unafraid of making difficult choices, and a well respected voice for Georgia,” state Rep. Mandi Ballinger said Wednesday. “I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions and he was always thoughtful and kind. I wish him a healthy, well-deserved retirement.”
Fellow Cherokee legislative delegation members Reps. Michael Caldwell, Wes Cantrell and Scot Turner also had praise for Isakson, who lives in neighboring Cobb County.
“Senator Isakson has exemplified statesmanship in service for decades. The Caldwell family will be praying for him, and we are extremely grateful for his dedication to Georgia and the Great American Experiment,” Caldwell said.
“I never saw Senator Isakson when he didn’t have a smile on his face and a positive outlook on the future,” Cantrell said. “Jane and I always enjoyed our interactions with him. He always had time for us, and he always had a word of encouragement. His presence in the Senate will be greatly missed.”
“His wisdom, wit, competence, and passion will not be easily replaced,” Turner said. “I thank him for his service to our state and our nation. And my prayers are with him as he deals with his health challenges.”
State Sen. Bruce Thompson said Georgians owe their gratitude to Isakson for his decades of public service.
"The Senator knows no stranger, and is a defender of those he feels are being wronged regardless of political affiliation," Thompson said. "As a strong supporter of our veterans, he will always hold a special place in the hearts of those men and women that accepted the call to serve in our military."
Isakson says he looks forward to returning to Washington on Sept. 9 when the Senate goes back into session.
“After Dec. 31, I will look forward to continuing to help the people of Georgia in any way I can and also helping those who are working toward a cure for Parkinson’s.”
Isakson announced in 2015 he had been diagnosed with the disease.
Isakson holds the distinction of being the only Georgian ever to have been elected to the state House, state Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate, his website biography states, adding that in 2016 he also became the first Georgia Republican ever to be elected to a third term in the U.S. Senate.
For a third consecutive term, Isakson is chairman of both the Senate Ethics Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and remains the only Republican in the Senate chairing two committees.
He also serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A successful businessman with 40-plus years in the real estate industry, Isakson has built a record of public service to Georgia and the nation, entering politics in 1974 and serving for 17 years in the Georgia Legislature in both the House and Senate.
His replacement will be appointed by Kemp, as is customary in Georgia and 35 other states, and will serve until the next regularly-held general election on Nov. 3, 2020. Isakson’s decision means Georgians will now be voting to fill both of its U.S. Senate seats in 2020.