Tures: Johnny Isakson’s departure puts the Senate up for grabs

Published 3:52 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2019

John Tures
Political science professor at LaGrange College

As Senator Johnny Isakson decided to step down after a long tenure in office, finally worn down by an illness and the crippling stress of the job, the battle for his election puts the U.S. Senate up for grabs, creating a second Senate election in Georgia. If both parties learn something from this Georgian, they’ll be one seat closer to taking or retaining the seat in this upcoming election.

Of course, Senator Isakson was a Republican. But he rarely played the part of the partisan when it came to meeting his constituents, and responding to their concerns.

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He and I got to meet at political events, but I was most touched by his willingness to interact with college students, at a time that some conservatives shrink in horror from the prospect of meeting them the way a vampire cringes at the sun.

My favorite moment came during a statewide meeting of the Chamber of Commerce. Though barely able to stand after his speech, he sat and greeted one of my star students, who had joined me on the nearly three hour drive to meet. And he impressed the heck out of a fellow science professor who attended his Skype session at LaGrange College, with his candor and position.

Whenever you contacted his office, you got a response, and not always a form letter. I’d like to think it was because of my professorial stature, but I bet he and his team didn’t limit these replies. And you could tell someone read my request.

Senator Isakson was also willing to reach across party lines, the way Republicans like Alabama’s Richard Shelby and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey often do in the U.S. Senate, or the way Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pennsylvania) have done, in votes and bipartisan co-sponsorship.

Lots of Democrats are likely to jump in. Earlier this year, LaGrange College graduate Robert Allen (now in the Peace Corps) and I published research showing that Stacey Abrams was wise to pass on challenging Senator David Perdue and should also refrain from going against Governor Brian Kemp again, as no African-American has unseated a sitting Senator or Governor.

But Isakson’s seat has no incumbent.

Others considering it include some famous last names in Georgia history along with recent candidacies, including Carter, Nunn and one from the Northeast. That’s right, Michael Lieberman (son of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman), a businessman, is kicking the tires on the contest as well.

So far, only one name is on the GOP list so far from the www.politics1.com site. It’s US Representative Doug Collins, from the Ninth District.

What makes Republican Rep. Collins intriguing so far is that he’s #22 out of the Republicans in most bills co-sponsored with the other chamber, showing at least an ability to work across houses.

That’s no small feat when you consider what a politician told our class during his Georgia service: “the other party is the opposition, and the other chamber is the enemy.”

He also ranks well in writing bipartisan bills.

Whoever wants to prevail in the 2020 election must demonstrate a level of service, respect, and penchant for bipartisanship that we haven’t always seen in recent contests.

Instead of Tweeting the most incendiary quote or conjuring up the biggest political stunt, the successful nominee will hopefully craft a willingness to work together to solve problems, as Isakson often did.