This week’s Courier Herald column:
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution last week that would name a Savannah bridge after former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. No, it’s not the soon to be replaced bridge spanning the Savannah river, but a new one spanning a massive railyard leading into the Port of Savannah.
Isakson left the U.S. Senate at the end of 2019 after concluding that his health no longer allowed him to do the job the way he believed it needed to be done. Prior to the U.S. Senate, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Georgia Senate, and the Georgia House, as well as the Georgia Air National Guard.
Expanding the Port of Savannah was a top priority throughout Isakson’s Senate tenure. Funding to dredge and deepen the harbor was made difficult by Republicans decision to swear off earmarks when they held majorities in both chambers of Congress.
It took years to get the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize the project, and then additional annual efforts to ensure that the established line item in the annual appropriations bill received sufficient funding to keep the work on track. The outer harbor deepening has since been completed, with the inner harbor scheduled to be finished early next year.
Meanwhile, the Port has been busy with relentless incrementalism redesigning and realigning existing operations to handle ever increasing shipping volumes. The Mason Mega-Rail yard which the Isakson bridge spans will allow up to 18 trains up to 2 miles in length to be loaded simultaneously when it is complete.
It’s somewhat fitting that the bridge chosen to honor Isakson’s service is more workhorse than the other, more controversial show horse bridge. The Isakson bridge is just beginning generations of future service. The other bridge caught up in a potential name change controversy is set to be replaced in the near future.
Isakson’s political career was one of working hard behind the scenes on things that must be done while others spent their time in the limelight fighting for Pyrrhic victories on often inconsequential matters. As he was one of the architects of the modern Georgia Republican party, there’s some symbolism here which should be noted by those in the current generation who wish to stand on his foundation and lead the party into the future.
The Cobb County Republican understood the importance of Georgia’s ports because they connect all of Georgia to the world. As a tool of commerce, it brings buyers and sellers together, much like Isakson did throughout his professional career as a Realtor.
It should be noted that during most years, Georgia’s ports export about as much as they import. For every item the port helps Georgian’s buy, it helps Georgians sell one too. That’s what trade is all about.
Isakson was known as the go-to Republican when a deal had to be made in the Senate. While too many now view “compromise” as an ugly word, many of those same party faithful will tell you one of the best qualities of our last President is that he is a “deal maker”.
Isakson understood that for a deal to happen, both sides needed to win. The export needed to match the import, leaving both sides better off. Trade, whether in commerce or in politics, is not about vanquishing the other side. It’s about both parties feeling like they walk away from the table better off than when they sat down.
Helping guide Isakson through this process time and time again was his approach to all people. As House Speaker David Ralston noted when speaking in favor of naming the bridge, Isakson understood that people were either friends or “future friends”. Rivals, opponents, and foes don’t exist in Isakson’s world. Just “future friends”, yet to be won over.
Republicans will spend the next 3 months choosing their leaders for a state party that is at a crossroads. You’ll hear many talk about who needs to be removed from the party.
These are the people that don’t understand that politics is about the art of addition, not subtraction. Georgia Republicans need more friends and future friends. The really need to focus on who is going to build the next bridge.