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Sen. Johnny Isakson (R)

Georgia

N/A

isakson.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2004, 2nd term.

Born: December 28, 1944, Atlanta

Home: Marietta

Education: U. of GA, B.B.A. 1966

Professional Career: Northside Realty, 1967-99, Pres., 1979-99; Co-chair, Dole GA presidential campaign, 1988, 1996; Chmn., GA Board of Ed., 1997.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Methodist

Family: married (Dianne) , 3 children

Johnny Isakson, a Republican elected in 2004, is Georgia’s junior senator. He is as staunchly conservative as other Georgia Republicans but exudes a Southern charm that makes him less off-putting to his liberal colleagues than others in the state’s congressional delegation. The GOP takeover in 2015 handed him the chairmanship of two committees: Veterans' Affairs and Ethics.

Isakson grew up outside Atlanta, in south Fulton County. His father drove a Greyhound bus, and his parents bought old houses, renovated them, and sold them for a profit. Isakson graduated from the University of Georgia and served in the Air National Guard. He went to work for Northside Realty in 1967 and eventually became president of the firm. He volunteered for Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 and for President Richard Nixon’s in 1972. In 1974, he ran for the state House and lost. In 1976, he ran again and won, and in 1983 became minority leader. He ran for governor in 1990, losing 53%-45% to Democrat Zell Miller. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate. In 1996, he ran statewide again and lost the Republican runoff for U.S. senator to self-financing businessman Guy Millner, who lost in November to Democrat Max Cleland 49%-48%. In December 1996, Gov. Miller appointed Isakson head of the state board of education. His partisan political career seemed over, but it was revived by two timely retirements.

In November 1998, Newt Gingrich of Georgia announced that he was stepping down as speaker of the House and that he would resign his seat in Congress. That opened up a vacancy in the heavily Republican 6th District, which included much of Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Isakson was by far the best-known of the six candidates in the February 1999 nonpartisan election. He raised $1 million and spent $500,000 of his own money. He won the seat with 65% of the vote. In the House, Isakson served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he pushed for a rapid transit line for the overburdened Georgia 400 corridor. On the Education and the Workforce Committee, he took a leading role in negotiations on President George W. Bush’s signature education law, the No Child Left Behind Act, which tied federal funds for schools to test performance. He added a provision requiring that 25% of technology funds be used for teacher classroom training.

Isakson passed up a chance to run against Cleland in 2002. But the state’s other Senate seat came open in 2004 when Zell Miller, who by then had moved from governor to senator, announced he would retire after just one term. Isakson had two serious competitors in the Republican primary: Herman Cain, who grew up in a black neighborhood in Atlanta and, starting from low-level jobs, became the owner of Omaha-based Godfather’s Pizza; and Rep. Mac Collins, whose district included the southern edge of metro Atlanta. Cain and Collins were both solid conservatives and abortion rights opponents, and they made abortion a major issue.

Isakson also was an opponent of abortion, but he had voted against a law preventing the use of foreign aid money to fund abortions overseas and had voted for allowing servicewomen to have abortions at their own expense in military hospitals. In the 1996 Senate primary, he had irked religious conservatives by saying, “I will not vote to amend the Constitution to make criminals of women and their doctors. I trust my wife, my daughter, and the women of Georgia to make the right choices.” Collins called him “a certified moderate.”

Cain also backed a consumption tax and private investment accounts in Social Security; Collins criticized Isakson for favoring an extension of the date for the turnover of sovereignty in Iraq. Isakson called for staying the course in Iraq and for tax reform. With his business contacts, Isakson raised $5.5 million for the primary; Cain spent $3 million, much of it his own money, and Collins spent $1.9 million. Many observers thought the race would end with a runoff. But Isakson got 53% of the vote to 26% for Cain and 21% for Collins.

In the general election campaign, Isakson faced 4th District Rep. Denise Majette, who had served just one term in the House after her upset victory over Cynthia McKinney in the 2002 primary. He attacked Majette’s liberal voting record, including her vote against an $87 billion spending bill for Iraq. Majette criticized Isakson for undercutting Bush’s education reforms by not voting to fully fund them. Isakson won 58%-40%, almost the same margin by which Bush beat John Kerry in the state. Majette carried only 19 of 159 counties, including Atlanta’s Fulton County and two black-majority counties in metro Atlanta.

Isakson has a conservative voting record in the Senate, though his folksy pragmatism makes him markedly less edgy than other Republicans in Georgia’s congressional delegation. He said his experience selling homes taught him the virtues of negotiation and compromise. “If you want to ever learn how to accept rejection, sell real estate for a few years,” he told the Associated Press in 2010.

On Veterans' Affairs, Isakson's agenda for the 114th Congress (2015-16) included overseeing the implementation of bipartisan bill signed into law in 2014 in response to reports of mistreatment at VA facilities. Isakson had been among those sounding early alarms about veterans' treatment, holding a committee field hearing at Atlanta's VA Medical Center in August 2013. But he did not join three other Senate Republicans in October 2014 in publicly blasting VA Secretary Robert McDonald just a few months after McDonald was unanimously confirmed as the person to try to fix the agency.

Isakson also has a seat on the Finance Committee, where he looks out for Georgia's cotton growers. He questioned U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in January 2015 about the steep decline in the trading price of cotton and China's stockpiling enabling that country to subsidize its producers at twice the world market price. He and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons founded the Senate Chicken Caucus in 2013, and in 2015 complained to Froman about South Africa's duties imposed on U.S. chicken imports.

On the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Isakson worked actively on pension reform, with the chief goal of advocating the interests of Delta Airlines, which was bankrupt and had huge pension obligations to its workers. In 2005, the Senate passed a pension reform measure that included Isakson’s amendment to give airlines 20 additional years to meet their obligations. Negotiations between the House and Senate dragged on; House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, was unhappy with what he called Isakson’s “industry-specific relief” in the bill. But in 2006, a final version passed giving Delta and Northwest 17 years to amortize their pension payments, while American and Continental got 10 years.

Before Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss retired in 2014, he and Isakson often worked closely together. Although Isakson opposed the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill in 2006, he and Chambliss worked with a bipartisan group of senators in 2007 on a bill including a path to legalization for illegal workers, a guest worker program, and tougher enforcement. Isakson sponsored a “trigger” provision that would delay legalization measures until enforcement goals were met. Nonetheless, he and Chambliss were booed by anti-illegal-immigration hardliners at the May 2007 Republican state convention. In June, when Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the bill to the floor, Isakson and Chambliss said they would vote against allowing it to go forward unless a separate appropriation boosting border security was passed.

Isakson has been willing to compromise during high-stakes fiscal battles. In August 2011, he broke with Chambliss on a key deficit reduction deal that raised the debt ceiling. After a tense standoff between Republican leaders and President Barack Obama, the Senate passed a compromise plan, 74-26. Isakson notably supported the Senate Republican leadership by voting for more modest cost-cutting measures, while Chambliss dissented and pushed for larger cuts. During negotiations over the “fiscal cliff”—when a combination of tax increases and spending cuts were scheduled to kick in on January 1, 2013—Isakson publicly pushed Senate leaders to broker a deal with the White House. While Obama wanted to sunset tax breaks for people earning more than $250,000, the GOP hoped to retain the Bush-era tax cuts for all income groups. “No one wants taxes to go up on the middle class. I don’t want them to go up on anybody, but I’m not in the majority in the United States Senate,” Isakson said on ABC’s This Week in late December 2012. Isakson later voted for the bill that easily passed the Senate, extending tax cuts for people earning less than $400,000 and postponing spending cuts.

In February 2009, the Senate unanimously passed Isakson’s $15,000 tax credit for home-buyers as part of the economic stimulus bill, and later that year concurred with his argument that further extension of the credit was needed to boost the weak economy.

Isakson severely rebuked Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in 2010 when Steele described the Afghanistan conflict as “a war of Obama’s choosing.” The same year, he joined Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee in supporting the New START arms-reduction pact with Russia. He and Chambliss stood together in September 2008 in supporting the “Gang of 10” bipartisan energy bill that was opposed by many conservatives. He became entangled in a brief controversy during the 2009 health care debate when conservatives seized on end-of-life counseling provisions, which former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin derided as “death panels.” Obama responded that one of the leading sponsors of the effort was Isakson, a longtime advocate for end-of-life counseling and assistance in drafting living wills. But Isakson rebutted Obama, saying that he backed a much different policy. The provisions ultimately were dropped from the bill. The flap came several months after Isakson had his own experience with the health care system: He was rushed to the hospital after having a toxic reaction to bacteria in his bloodstream and was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Isakson got involved in the fallout over the 2009 death of 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, a Georgia native living in Benin. ABC News reported that Puzey was killed after telling her supervisors that a fellow Peace Corps worker was molesting female students. Isakson sponsored a bill to protect Peace Corps whistleblowers and help victims of sexual assault. The bill passed both houses and Obama signed it into law in November 2011.

On the Ethics Committee, Isakson has maintained a solid working relationship with California's Barbara Boxer, the panel's top Democrat. “Ethics is not fun … you’re sitting in judgment on your peers,” Isakson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April 2012. “And I’ve been impressed with her ability to look through an unfettered lens, and I do the same thing.” The committee investigated former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., for trying to cover up an extramarital affair with a campaign aide and wife of one of his top staffers. In May 2011, the committee announced that it had uncovered evidence that Ensign broke the law, and the information was given to the Justice Department.

Outside watchdog groups are unhappy at the panel's record in meting out punishment in recent years; apart from the Ensign case, they noted that it dismissed every other case that came before it in 2012 and every new complaint filed in 2013. Boxer and Isakson told National Journal in a joint statement in October 2014 that the panel "has significantly increased its efforts to educate and train the Senate community to prevent misconduct and ensure that senators and staff live up to the highest ethical standards." Statistics showed Ethics conducted more ethics seminars in 2013 for new members and congressional offices than it had in recent years, and also responded to more than 700 requests for guidance from senators and their offices that year.

In 2010, Isakson breezed to reelection against Democrat Michael Thurmond, Georgia’s labor commissioner, who in July had managed to raise just $117,000 compared to Isakson’s $7.5 million. He kicked off his 2016 reelection campaign in November 2014 and was considered a likely bet to win, especially after the Democrats' most-desired candidate, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, took a pass. "I think 2016 will be very difficult to attract one of the leading Democrats to take on Sen. Isakson because of the reputation that he has in the state and the affection folks have for him," Reed told the Associated Press.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3643

(202) 228-0724

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 131
Washington, DC 20510-1008

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-3643

(202) 228-0724

RSOB- Russell Senate Office Building Room 131
Washington, DC 20510-1008

DISTRICT OFFICE

(770) 661-0999

(770) 661-0768

One Overton Park Suite 970
Atlanta, GA 30339-6406

DISTRICT OFFICE

(770) 661-0999

(770) 661-0768

One Overton Park Suite 970
Atlanta, GA 30339-6406

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 250116
Atlanta, GA 30325

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 250116
Atlanta, GA 30325

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Jay Sulzmann
Legislative Director

William Dent
Legislative Correspondent

Acquisitions

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Aerospace

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Agriculture

Jay Sulzmann
Legislative Director

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

William Dent
Legislative Correspondent

Andrew Ross
Field Representative

Animal Rights

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Appropriations

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Banking

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Ashley Dalton
Legislative Correspondent

Budget

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Campaign

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Commerce

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Education

Michael Black
Legislative Correspondent

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Tommy Nguyen
Staff Director

Energy

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Finance

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Ashley Dalton
Legislative Correspondent

Foreign

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Govt Ops

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Grants

Maureen Rhodes
Special Assistant; Grants Director

Gun Issues

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Health

Michael Black
Legislative Correspondent

Jay Sulzmann
Legislative Director

Jordan Bartolomeo
Health Legislative Assistant

Homeland Security

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Human Rights

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Internet

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

Michael Black
Legislative Correspondent

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Tommy Nguyen
Staff Director

Medicare

Jay Sulzmann
Legislative Director

William Dent
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Native Americans

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Privacy

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Public Works

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Recreation

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Religion

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Science

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Tax

Monica McGuire
Legislative Assistant

Ashley Dalton
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Trade

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Transportation

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Yates Branch
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Allie White
Legislative Correspondent

Ryan Evans
Legislative Assistant

Welfare

Jay Sulzmann
Legislative Director

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

William Dent
Legislative Correspondent

Women

Brett Layson
Senior Legislative Assistant

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
Johnny Isakson
Votes: 1,489,904
Percent: 58.31%
Michael Thurmond
Votes: 996,516
Percent: 39.0%
2010 PRIMARY
Johnny Isakson
Votes: 558,298
Percent: 100.0%
2004 GENERAL
Johnny Isakson
Votes: 1,864,202
Percent: 58.0%
Denise Majette
Votes: 1,287,690
Percent: 40.0%
2004 PRIMARY
Johnny Isakson
Votes: 346,670
Percent: 53.0%
Herman Cain
Votes: 170,370
Percent: 26.0%
Mac Collins
Votes: 133,952
Percent: 21.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (58%); House: 2002 (80%), 2000 (75%), 1999 special (65%)

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