ATLANTA — UPDATE: Governor Brian Kemp says the deadline for applications for Johnny Isakson's Senate seat will be Nov. 18 at 5 p.m.
"I am encouraging all Georgians who want to serve in the U.S. Senate to submit their name and qualifications by Monday, November 18," said Governor Kemp. "We will continue to carefully vet each applicant and nominate a person who will best serve our state and country."
In his first interview since announcing he would be resigning by the end of the year, Sen. Johnny Isakson tells Channel 2 Action News that he wants Georgians to know loud and clear, "I'm not done yet."
Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant sat down one-on-one with Isakson Monday in his office.
[PHOTOS: Sen. Johnny Isakson through the years]
At a time of intense political polarization and divisiveness in Washington, Isakson remains one of the most respected and well-liked members of the U.S. Senate.
"I'm not gone yet," Isakson told Diamant. "I've got some holes to fill, I've got some holes to dig and I've got some things to do and I'm going to do them."
Isakson agreed to sit down with Diamant in his Cobb County office Monday for his first interview since announcing he plans to resign from office on Dec. 31.
"I know this couldn't have been an easy decision for you," Diamant said to Isakson.
"No, it wasn't. You don't do anything for 21 years and not love it … and I've loved it," Isakson said.
Add in his time in the Georgia General Assembly and Isakson's political career has spanned 45 years.
"I started missing it before I even told anybody I was going to have to resign, but I knew I had to," Isakson said.
The senator opened up about the toll his battles with Parkinson's disease, kidney cancer and a recent fall has taken on him.
"My mother used to tell me whatever you feel like, if you feel bad listen to your body, and do what your body tells you, and my body was telling me it wasn't going to be long before I couldn't do everything I needed to do to represent the people of Georgia, and I knew if I couldn't give them 100 percent, and couldn't give them all I had, then I needed to get out of the way so somebody could," Isakson said.
While the list of accomplishments is long, as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Isakson has championed sweeping national reforms of the massive veterans' health care system.
Much of the early work was fueled by a series of Channel 2 Action News investigations that exposed systemic accountability and access issues at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
"You and I went to an open field with weeds about this high to do a press conference with a picture of the hospital in the background, because they wouldn't let us on the same side of the street where the hospital was. That was not a very welcoming or open agency. Today, they welcome us when we go over there," Isakson told Diamant.
As Isakson gets set to call it a career, Diamant asked Georgia's senior senator if he had any regrets.
"None whatsoever. I'm a happy guy," Isakson said.
He did make one final promise to the millions of Georgians he has served as senator.
"I'm still open for business until the 31st of December, so if you live in the state of Georgia, and you have a problem with your government, don't hesitate to call me. I'll try and help you any way I can," Isakson said.
As for who is to replace Isakson, the senator told Diamant he is leaving the decision up to Gov. Brian Kemp and has no plans to endorse anyone.
He did offer Kemp a bit of advice.
"Do what Mark Twain used to say. When you're confronted with a difficult decision, you do what's right. You surprise a few and you amaze the rest. He needs to surprise a few and amaze the rest. Pick the best person available," Isakson said.
He urges whoever replaces him to do what he did: spend a lot of time listening to Georgians and then do what you think is right for all of them.
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