Updated at 2:21 p.m. on Wednesday, August 28, 2019, with statement from Ralston.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing health challenges, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said Wednesday he will retire at year's end, a departure that sets up a rare election in November 2020 when both of the state's Senate seats will be on the ballot.
Responses to Isakson's resignation announcement
"The loss of Johnny Isakson from public life will leave a void in Georgia which is beyond comprehension. While I respect his reasons, I feel a tremendous sense of personal sadness – Johnny is a mentor, role model and friend. Over a distinguished career in the Georgia House, Georgia State Senate, State Board of Education, U.S. House and U.S. Senate, Johnny Isakson demonstrated that civility and reasonableness are virtues that will never go out of style. My family and I will continue to pray for Johnny, Dianne and the Isakson family."
- Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge)
"Over the course of his career, Senator Isakson consistently put Georgians first and embodied what it means to be a workhorse and not a show horse in Washington. He built the Republican Party of Georgia from the ground up, and I am so thankful for his conservative leadership. His commitment to our Georgia values is something every elected official in our state should seek to emulate. Brooke and I wish him and his family all the best in the coming years."
- Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan
"It is hard to say an early goodbye to the most popular member of the United States Senate, but it is reassuring to know that Johnny Isakson has contributed an example of statesmanship and service that will last for a long time. We will miss his civility, independence, and genuine good will, and I will miss regularly seeing a good friend."
- Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
"The very first political event I ever attended was Johnny Isakson's election night party when he was the Republican nominee for Governor in 1990. While the results didn't turn out as we had hoped, he unknowingly inspired me, a cash-strapped college student, to consider a life of public service. In his 40 years of service, Johnny has shown unwavering dedication to our state and our country. He's governed with grace and is admired and respected by all who have been lucky to serve with him. While his physical presence will be absent in the U.S. Senate, his legacy and dedication to Georgia families will live on through so many others, including me. Thank you, Johnny."
- Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14)
"When Johnny Isakson speaks, people listen. He is a true statesman, and it shows every day. It is my high honor to serve as Johnny's partner in the United States Senate. Like so many Georgians, I was surprised and saddened to learn that he will not finish the rest of his term. Together, we are able to get real results for Georgia. Throughout his four decades of service, Johnny has always been a champion for the people of Georgia, especially our veterans. Bonnie and I are grateful for Johnny and Dianne's leadership, and we are proud to call them our friends."
- Senator David Perdue (R-GA)
The affable 74-year-old lawmaker said he is leaving the job he loves because "mounting" health issues, including Parkinson's disease, are "taking their toll" on his work, family and staff. He won a third term in 2016 and would have faced re-election in 2022 if he had run again.
"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," Isakson said in a statement . "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."
Isakson, who plans to return to Washington when the Senate resumes next month, was diagnosed in 2013 with Parkinson's, the chronic and progressive movement disorder often left him moving through the corridors at the Capitol with a noticeably slower, shuffling gate.
He disclosed the diagnosis in 2015, while gearing up to seek a third term in the Senate, but kept up a schedule in the Senate, where he was often seen as a moderating influence, willing to reach across the aisle at a time of deep partisanship.
After winning re-election, he underwent a scheduled surgery in 2017 on his back to address spinal deterioration. At times, he has been in a wheelchair.
Then in July, Isakson was hospitalized after fracturing four ribs in a fall at his Washington apartment and spent nearly a week recovering in a Georgia rehabilitation facility.
He said Wednesday that he looks forward to returning to the Capitol in September and plans to continue helping those who are "working toward a cure for Parkinson's."
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said he would appoint Isakson's replacement "at the appropriate time." The senator will step down in December.
The ballot in November 2020 will now feature a special election for the remaining part of Isakson's term as well as the regular election for the Senate seat now held by Republican David Perdue, who is seeking a second six-year term.
Republican strategists were suggesting that former White House official Nick Ayers, who returned to Georgia, could be considered for the appointment. Other Republicans, including statewide elected officials and members of Congress, including Reps. Doug Collins and Tom Graves, could be seen as candidates.
One prominent Democrat, Stacey Abrams, "will not be a candidate," a spokesman said on Twitter. Abrams, who was being wooed to run against Perdue, will continue to focus on voter access issues in Georgia and across the nation.
The seat is expected to lean Republican, but Georgia remains in Democrats sights as a changing electorate provides openings.
Isakson's political career spanned 40 years in Georgia politics, where he made millions in a real estate.
In 1990, he lost the race for governor to Democrat Zell Miller. His political career received a jump start when in 1998 U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich decided not to seek re-election. Isakson won a 1999 special election to fill the suburban Atlanta seat. Isakson won the Senate seat in 2004.
Sen. Johnny Isakson's full statement
It has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime to serve the state of Georgia in the Georgia State House, Georgia Senate, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. As you know, I have been battling health challenges for several years, and after much prayer and consultation with my family, I have decided I will leave the Senate effective December 31, 2019.
I am leaving a job I love because my health-challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff. My Parkinson's has been progressing and I am continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July. In addition, this week I had surgery to remove a growth on my kidney.
In my 40 years in elected office, I have always put my constituents and my state of Georgia first. 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. 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.
I thank you for your continued support. Without it, my years of service would not have been possible and because of that I am forever grateful.