In last week’s column I wrote about Senator Johnny Isakson’s farewell speech. It was a direct charge to his peers to get beyond today’s hyper-partisan rhetoric and solve our country’s problems. It was not an appeal for bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake, but for a return to a focus on the role of the legislator.
There was a time, not long ago, when legislators sought to pass legislation to address actual issues of the day. Now, it appears too many see their role as fortifying gridlock while an executive branch establishes policy and the judicial branch legislates from the ninth circuit.
Make no mistake, Isakson’s career of public service has been as a legislator. Over 45 years he’s served in the Georgia House, Georgia Senate, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate.
Legislators want the solutions they propose in legislation to reflect their ideology. Legislators in the mold of Senator Isakson also understand what is rarely if ever said in Washington these days: many routine issues of government transcend the rigid boundaries of partisan ideology.
Because he chose not to make the focus about him, Isakson’s speech avoided listing his own accomplishments as a legislator. A complete look at his charge to fellow Senators to solve problems and get things done requires a few examples of what the Isakson approach has accomplished for Georgia and our country.
In 2006, Delta was in a quite different financial position than it is today. Still recovering from 9/11, the airline was in bankruptcy reorganization and was preparing to terminate its pension plan.
It wasn’t that the airline couldn’t make pension payments, but that it didn’t meet the reserves required by the government to maintain the plan and couldn’t replenish them as quickly as the government required. Delta projected it needed a couple more years to solidify the program for 91,000 retirees, but the Government kept saying “no.”
Had the status quo prevailed, a lot of Delta pensioners would have lost a significant portion of their retirement savings. Worse, taxpayers would have been forced to pick up the bill for much of what remained. Allowing Delta extra time to fortify their plan had little financial downside, and significant upside for taxpayers and pensioners alike.
Many politicians still didn’t want to put their name on that risk. The era was post-Enron, and as the real-estate bubble was collapsing. No one wanted their names on what might be criticized as a favor to Wall Street, despite the benefits landing squarely on Main Street. Even the Bush White House threatened a veto.
Undeterred, Isakson went to work, got a bill passed and signed after earning the support of the President. Taxpayers didn’t have to bail out the system, and Delta’s employees have had their pensions paid as agreed.
In 2009, Georgian Kate Puzey was murdered in the African country of Benin, where she was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The investigation was stymied locally, and it became clear that the US was sending volunteers into often dangerous conditions as volunteers without sufficient protections from local governments or the US institutions that should have been backing them.
Isakson himself went to Benin to secure justice for Puzey and her family, and drafted bipartisan legislation to protect other volunteers like her in the future. President Obama sized the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act in 2011.
Isakson’s most enduring legislative legacy will likely come from his Chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. During his tenure the committee has passed 56 pieces of legislation to reform the VA.
Reform of the Veterans Administration continues to be a daunting task. The Isakson approach has been to break the overall problem down into smaller pieces to spotlight individual issues and build consensus around fixing those, building up to what will amount to a comprehensive overhaul of the agency.
These examples are but a small snippet of the legislative resume of Senator Johnny Isakson. They do, however, represent the ability to see a solution when others see problems and see a path to victory when others see talking points for a stump speech. These are qualities we should seek more often from those we send to Washington and Atlanta to represent us.

Charlie Harper is the publisher of, and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on policy solutions in the areas of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.