At a Glance
- Career History: U.S. Representative (1998 to 2004); Chairman, Georgia Board of Education (2006), Georgia State Senate (1993 to 1996), Georgia State House (1976 to 1990)
- Birthday: Dec. 28, 1944
- Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
- Alma Mater: B.A., University of Georgia, 1966.
- Spouse: Dianne
- Religion: Methodist
- Committees : Ranking member, Select Ethics ; Commerce, Science and Transportation ; Veterans' Affairs ; Foreign Relations ; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
- DC Office: 120 Russell Senate Office Building
- State Office: Atlanta, 770/661-0999
Path to Power
John Hardy "Johnny" Isakson, the grandson of Swedish immigrants and son of a successful real- estate salesman, helped turn what in the 1970s was a bedroom community north of his hometown of Atlanta into one the fastest-growing and wealthiest suburbs in the country and, in the process, into one of the most potent political power bases in Georgia.
Isakson started selling houses in 1967, the year after he graduated from the University of Georgia and while he was serving a six-year tour with the Georgia Air National Guard. Even as he was building a business, Isakson began talking about a career in politics, inspired, he says, by two polar opposites: Democratic President John F. Kennedy and conservative icon Barry Goldwater.
Isakson is the ultimate consensus-builder in a chamber that has become increasingly polarized in recent years.
When President George W. Bush and Congress clashed on immigration reform in 2007, it was Isakson who first proposed a border security-first policy that added guards and a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, as many Republican lawmakers wanted, before other reforms sought by Bush, including a guest-worker program, could be put in place. But by the time the White House adopted Isakson's proposal, opposition to immigration reform had already taken root among conservatives, including Georgia voters, and the reforms died in the Senate.
Isakson and Georgia's other senator, Saxby Chambliss (R), attended the University of Georgia together and rose together in Georgia politics. Though both are conservative, pro-business legislators, Isakson has been credited as more of a bridge-builder to Democrats. The two work as a team on state issues and routinely announce their positions on issues and funding for state projects jointly. They are married to two sorority sisters they met in college.
Isakson and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) are both conservatives who built their political bases in Georgia's Cobb County, one of the most affluent and heavily Republican counties in the country. But they are polar opposites stylistically. While Gingrich favored the spotlight, Isakson prefers working behind-the-scenes. Whereas ideology is Gingrich's driving force, Isakson is much more of a pragmatic problem-solver. Butm Isakson was Gingrich's handpicked successor after the former House speaker announced his resignation in 1998.