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Georgia Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson will resign at the end of the year

Decision means both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be up in 2020

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two days after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney, Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia has announced he will resign at the end of the year because due to poor health.

The decision means that both of the Peach State’s Senate seats will be open in 2020, giving Republicans another seat to defend in as they try to maintain their three-seat majority in Congress’s upper chamber.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

Isakson, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease, underwent surgery on August 26 for removal of a renal carcinoma. In a statement announcing his resignation, he said, “I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

Republican Governor Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement for Isakson to serve until a special election is held in November 2020 to fill the two years remaining on his Senate term.

The seat of the state’s other Republican senator, David Perdue, is also up for election in 2020, putting both seats on the ballot.

However, under state law, there will be no party primaries for Isakson’s seat. Candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two finishers meeting in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

That last time that happened in Georgia, in 2017 in the 6th U.S. House district, it triggered a contentious nationalized race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff during which the candidates blew through $50 million. Handel won that race, although she lost the seat to Democrat Lucy McBath in 2018.

One possible Democratic contender for Isakson’s seat, Stacey Abrams, the party’s unsuccessful candidate against Kemp in 2018, quickly announced that she would not be a candidate. She had earlier passed on challenging Perdue.

Isakson, 74, was first elected to the Senate in 2004 after losing campaigns for governor in 1990 and Senate in 1996. He was re-elected easily in 2010 and 2016, becoming the first Republican in state history to win three Senate elections.

His decision to retire brings to a close a storied career in Georgia GOP politics, dating back to the early 1970s when he was among a small number of Republicans serving in the Democrat-dominated legislature, representing suburban Cobb County near Atlanta.

In 1990, Isakson gave up his legislative seat to run for governor against conservative Democrat Zell Miller, falling short but coming closer than any Republican had in decades — a portent of the rising fortunes for a GOP that now dominates state politics.

In 1999, Isakson was elected to the U.S. House to succeed former Speaker Newt Gingrich and went to the Senate five years later when Miller retired.

In 2013, Isakson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but sought re-election in 2016 as he battled the illness. However, this summer he was seriously injured in a fall at his Washington home. After returning to Georgia for the congressional recess, he underwent surgery to remove what his office described as “a 2-centimeter renal cell carcinoma” from his kidney.

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Georgia U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson announces he has Parkinson’s disease

Despite the diagnosis, the Republican lawmaker plans to run again in 2016

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

georgia mugATLANTA (CFP) — U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson has publicly disclosed that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but the Georgia Republican says he still plans to run for a third term in 2016.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

“My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate,” Isakson said in a June 10 statement. “I am busier and have more responsibility today than ever before in my political career, and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

“I am eager to take my record of results to the voters of Georgia as I run for re-election in 2016.”

Isakson, 70, who was first elected to the Senate in 2004, said he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive and potentially debilitating neurological disorder, in 2013. He said he is still in the early stages of the disease “and my main symptoms are the stiffness in my left arm and a slowed, shuffling gait.”

Isakson’s office released a statement from his Georgia-based neurologist, Dr. Thomas Holmes, saying “I believe he is fully capable of continuing to perform his duties as a U.S. senator, and I believe he is fully capable of running for re-election and serving for another term.”

Prior to disclosure of his diagnosis, Isakson was considered a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016. Georgia trends strongly Republican in statewide races, and a May poll put Isakson’s approval rating at a whopping 71 percent among state GOP voters.

In his statement, Isakson said he “wrestled” with whether to disclose his illness publicly.

“In the end, I decided I should handle my personal health challenge with the same transparency that I have championed throughout my career,” he said.

Isakson came to the Senate after a long career in the Georgia legislature, where he rose to the position of House minority leader.

After failed campaigns for the Peach State’s governorship in 1990 and the U.S. Senate in 1996, he was elected to the U.S. House in 1999, replacing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after Gingrich unexpectedly resigned. He rose to the Senate after Democrat Zell Miller decided to retire in 2004.

Isakson is chairman of two Senate committees, Ethics and Veterans Affairs.

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