I’ve had the opportunity to cover U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson numerous times.
I’ve listened to him speaking to civic clubs and sat down with him in The Times-Herald’s conference room to talk about issues. I’ve found him to be smart, informed and unusually frank for a politician.
Many politicians say they want to represent all the people in their districts, but Johnny Isakson is the real deal. A Republican, Isakson has consistently attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day events to the point that he was invited in 2015 to speak to the crowd of more than 2,000 at the annual MLK observance at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
So, we shouldn’t have been surprised on Tuesday, when Isakson told his colleagues in the Senate – and more generally the Washington establishment – that they need to get together and govern. The senator sees that the federal government shutdown represents people and family and that it is a sorry reflection on the greatest nation in the world.
“There is only one thing we need to be doing – restoring the confidence of the American people in the Senate and the House. They don't have it right now. We haven't given them anything to hang their hat on – not a single thing,” Isakson said.
Isakson entered Congress in 1999 and moved to the Senate in 2005. He has voted against five shutdowns – “every one I had a chance to” – and he masterfully explained why he has cast those votes.
“Shutdowns cost the government more money. They don't save the government any money. They don't solve any single problem whatsoever, even when you mask them by only shutting down a little bit of the government, like we are right now. Not much of the government is really shut down – just the part that hurts the smallest income earners from our government. We are doing the wrong thing, punishing the wrong people, and that is just not right.”
Isakson told his colleagues that it is past time to address the shutdown. The senator gets that government matters, that it matters to the people who work the government and for the people using the services the government provides.
“The president is not moving. The Democrats aren't moving. The majority leader is not moving. We are not doing much. That doesn't solve anything. Somewhere along the line, we have to agree to find a way to do something different that may not be the end deal but the bridge to do an end deal, or else we are all going to look silly.”
The essence of governance is discussion, negotiation – and compromise. From the beginnings of the republic, politicians have rarely gotten all they wanted, but they have persevered to get a piece of the pie.
The border wall is an issue of utmost importance to many Americans, while others think building one – at all – is a boondoggle. There is certainly not a consensus that it is a national emergency equivalent to Pearl Harbor or the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
It’s time for the negotiation and compromise to begin – and for the government to reopen regardless of how that single issue is decided.
Depending on how long this shutdown lasts, there are government employees who may wake up the morning it ends with no car to drive and no lights on. Some could lose their homes.
There are other personal moments that will pass – the parent who has to tell his child there is no money to go to the band competition or to buy the congratulatory senior ad in the yearbook, the decisions that will have to be made over whether to buy medicine or pay the mortgage, the person who has a loved one die and has to skip the lone opportunity to honor that person with a beautiful floral arrangement.
The hurt to people using government services are being enumerated – and are growing – as the shutdown continues.
Johnny Isakson is a wise man speaking truth. I hope his words are not just dying in the wind.
“We can talk about how the Democrats did this and the Republicans did that. But the fact is,” he said, “we are not doing a damn thing while the American people are suffering.”
Winston Skinner is the news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com