• By Greg Bluestein
• October 24, 2019
The former head of the federal government’s trillion-dollar student financial aid agency said Thursday he would resign his post at the Department of Education’s strategy office to seek Gov. Brian Kemp’s appointment to a U.S. Senate seat.
A. Wayne Johnson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he plans to apply for the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson after serving as a deputy to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the past two years.
“I intend to follow Senator Isakson’s example as a conservative Republican who is able to work across the aisle in Congress,” said Johnson, 67.
The Macon native joins about 500 applicants seeking Kemp’s appointment. The list includes current and former politicians, business executives, a U.S. ambassador, decorated military veterans and radio commentators.
Kemp’s pick would stand for election in November 2020 to fill out the remaining two years of Isakson’s term – he’s stepping down for health reasons – and be expected to run again in 2022 when Kemp is seeking re-election.
The only Democrat in the race so far is Matt Lieberman, the son of the former U.S. senator, but several other high-profile officials are maneuvering to run.
If he’s selected, Johnson told the AJC he would campaign on a plan that would wipe clean the more than $53 billion in student loans that Georgians owe to the federal government and compensate those who have already repaid their loans.
It would provide students a $50,000 grant for their college education and other work training and licensing costs. People who have already paid their student loan debts would receive tax credits up to $50,000.
It would be financed by a 1% tax on revenue generated by all employers – including non-profit organizations. He called it “fair, fiscally responsible and future-oriented so that the citizens of Georgia and across America can afford a college education.”
Kemp has said he opened the process to the public to seek unconventional candidates, and Johnson was not likely to be on his radar before Thursday.
He built a career as a consultant with banking companies before starting a private student loan firm in 2013. He was tapped by DeVos four years later to oversee the federal government’s $1.4 trillion portfolio of student loans. He stepped down after about seven months to head a new strategy office within the federal aid agency.
Pressed on why he applied, Johnson said winning a U.S. Senate seat is the only way he can implement his student aid overhaul.
“A college education is valuable to our citizens and it’s valuable to employers – but right now, only the students pay,” he said. “Employers say they need a better trained workforce. My plan sets forth an easy way to achieve that important goal.”