Isakson to Resign From Senate, Adding Competitive Seat to 2020 Docket

August 28, 2019 by Dan McCue
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is stepping down from office at the end of 2019 as he struggles with Parkinson's disease. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Johnny Isakson, D-Ga., announced Wednesday that he will step down from the Senate at the end of the year, adding a competitive seat to the highly anticipated 2020 battle for control of the chamber.

“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 have informed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp today that I will resign my Senate seat effective December 31, 2019,” Isakson said in a statement.

Under state law, Gov. Brian Kemp, also a Republican, will appoint a replacement, who will then stand for election in November 2020 to fill the remainder of Isakson’s term.

Georgia’s other U.S. Senator, David Perdue, R-Ga., will also be up for reelection at the time.

Isakson, 74, was most recently reelected in 2016, and would have been up for election again in 2022.

However recurring health problems have fueled speculation about his political future for years.

Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, revealed the diagnosis in 2015 and handily won reelection in 2016.

In 2017, Isakson underwent two back surgeries, and just last month he fractured four ribs during a fall in his Washington, D.C. apartment.

At the time Amanda Maddox, a spokeswoman for the senator said, “He is in pain, but resting and doing well. Senator Isakson looks forward to fully recovering and getting back to work for Georgians.”

In his statement on Wednesday, Isakson cited ongoing health issues as his primary reason for stepping down early.

“I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff,” he said. “My Parkinson’s has been progressing, and I am continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July. In addition, this week I had surgery to remove a growth on my kidney.”

Among those responding with regret to the news was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said he was saddened to hear of Isakson’s impending retirement.

“Johnny has become the gold standard for a U.S. Senator,” Graham said. “He is a consensus builder who is admired by all his colleagues for his passion, intellect and kindness.  He is also known for his willingness and ability to solve hard problems across party lines. As chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he has led the charge to dramatically improve the lives of American veterans.

“Johnny’s legacy of effectiveness for the people of Georgia and the United States will be long-lasting and well-remembered,” Graham said.

Isakson’s decision to retire immediately led to speculation that the Democratic Party would attempt to entice Stacey Abrams, who lost the state’s 2018 gubernatorial race by just 1 percentage point, to run for his seat in the special election.

But a spokesman for Abrams shut the door on a new senate bid just as quickly.

“Our thoughts are with Senator Isakson and his family,” an Abrams spokesman said in a statement. “Leader Abrams’ focus will not change: she will lead voter protection efforts in key states across the country, and make sure Democrats are successful in Georgia in 2020.

“While she will not be a candidate herself, she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year,” the statement said.

The race between Abrams and then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp inspired a huge bump in voter turnout and led to allegations of voter suppression in Georgia.

Despite the controversy, Republicans swept every statewide race in Georgia in 2018, but Abrams strong showing suggests the demographics of the state are changing and that it could be changing from red to purple.

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