Senate Georgia Isakson

In this Sept. 26, 2018 file photo, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner called U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson a "dear friend" in a statement Wednesday on the Georgia Republican's announcement that he'll resign at the end of the year due to health concerns.

Gardner called Isakson an ally in the push to complete the long-delayed Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora.

"If you could describe what it means to be a statesman in two words, they would be Johnny Isakson," Gardner said in the statement.

"He has a knack for distilling the most complex problems into common sense solutions and is able to clearly and articulately guide debate back to civility."

Isakson's pending departure after more than four decades in Georgia politics gives Democrats a surprise opening in a Southern state where the GOP's lock on statewide elections has shown signs of slipping.

The state's junior senator, Republican David Perdue, is already a top target as he seeks re-election for the first time next year.

Isakson, 74, said he is leaving the job he loves because "mounting" health issues, including Parkinson's disease, are "taking their toll." He won a third term in 2016 and would have faced reelection in 2022.

Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, "dedicated himself to improving the lives of our nation's veterans," Gardner said.

"I was honored to work with him in Colorado to finish the construction of the VA Hospital in Aurora," Gardner said. "Our nation's veterans, the state of Georgia and the United States are better off because of his service."

The hospital opened in 2018 after years of delays, and was more than $1 billion over budget. 

"No excuses," Isakson told VA officials during a rare field hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at Aurora's city hall in 2015, when the incomplete hospital was in need of $830 million. "We're going to get the project done and get it done right."

"You have an agency that is incestuous in terms of less than peak performance," he later said of the VA at the hearing.

The Gazette's Tom Roeder and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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