U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, whose career as an elected official from Georgia spanned four decades, has announced he will resign at the end of this year as he struggles with Parkinson’s disease.
The 74-year-old’s resignation sets up two elections for the Senate in Georgia next year after he steps down on Dec. 31. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement to serve starting in January until a special election to fill the seat is held Nov. 3, 2020.
The Republican Senator struggled with mounting health problems since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013. He fell in Washington, D.C. last month and had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his kidney earlier this week. Isakson said in a news release Wednesday that his health issues had taken too much of a toll on himself and his family to continue in office.
“It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term,” Isakson said, “but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”
The sudden departure of Isakson will make for a busy election season in fall 2020, with two Senate seats now up for grabs. U.S. Senator David Perdue has already drawn three Democratic challengers to his bid for re-election to a second term.
Isakson held office in Georgia’s state House of Representatives and Senate starting in the early 1970s, times when Republicans were scarce at the Gold Dome.
As president of Northside Realty, he built the firm his father started into the biggest independent real estate firm in the Southeast. And he helped guide the rapid transformation of Atlanta’s suburban bedroom communities into bustling commercial centers.
Isakson won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999, filling the seat vacated by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Isakson won the first of his three successive Senate terms in 2004 following former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller’s decision not to run for re-election.
Isakson’s announcement Wednesday drew both praise for the longtime Georgia politician and buzz among Democrats eager to assume his Senate seat. It is unclear who Kemp will appoint to fill the seat until the November 2020 election. The governor said only that he would make the appointment “at the appropriate time.”
Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully against Kemp in last year’s gubernatorial election, quickly tamped down speculation she might enter the race, saying through a spokesman Wednesday that “she is committed to helping Democratic candidates win both Senate races next year” through her new voting rights initiative.
State Senator Nikema Williams, an Atlantan who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement Isakson’s departure means “it has never been clearer that the path for Democratic victory runs through Georgia.”
Isakson drew local and national praise from both sides of the aisle Wednesday. Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan also of Cobb County described Isakson as “a true statesman.” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader from New York, called him “one of the kindest, most thoughtful senators.” Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said Isakson “demonstrates that civility and reasonableness are virtues that will never go out of style.”