Lamar Alexander

Alexander delivers farewell speech to Senate

Retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) has delivered his farewell speech in the Senate, drawing an emotional response from colleagues.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to gum up the works of a body of one hundred that operates mainly by unanimous consent,” Alexander said. “Here’s my view: It’s hard to get here, hard to stay here, and while you’re here, you ought to try to accomplish something good for the country.

“But it’s hard to accomplish something if you don’t vote on amendments,” he said. “Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.”

Here are Alexander’s remarks, as prepared for delivery to the Senate on Wednesday.

On March 9, 1967, the newly elected United States Senator from Tennessee, Howard Baker, Jr., delivered his maiden address, his first speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke too long.  Afterwards, Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader who was also Baker’s father-in-law, walked over to congratulate him and offer this advice: “Howard,” Sen. Dirksen said. “You might occasionally enjoy the luxury of an unexpressed thought.”  Still good advice for my farewell address.  

As Sen. Baker’s legislative assistant I was his speechwriter for that maiden address 53 years ago—or at least I thought I was. The problem was, he almost never said in his speeches what I had written.  I asked him if something was wrong with our relationship.  He said, “Lamar, we have a perfect relationship. You write what you want to write and I’ll say what I want to say.”    

I’ve learned a couple of other lessons about making speeches.

One was from the author of Roots, Alex Haley, who once heard me speak and afterwards took me aside and suggested politely:  “If, when you begin a speech, you would start by saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’, someone might actually listen to what you have to say.”

The other lesson came from the journalist David Broder, who gave this advice to Ruth Marcus about her new Washington Post column: one idea per column.

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More from the TNJ interview with Lamar Alexander

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville), left, and Gov. Bill Haslam attend an event at the state Capitol in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The current print edition of The Tennessee Journal includes a wide-ranging interview with retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) about his political beginnings, presidential bids, and the legacy of more than 50 years in public service.

Due to space limitations, not everything from the interview could make it into print. So here is some bonus material of Alexander speaking about his longtime relationship with political consultant Doug Bailey, and his role in coming up with Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk around the state as he was making his successful bid for governor in 1978. Bailey, who went on to found The Hotline in 1987, died in 2013.

Here is Alexander discussing his plans for running for governor again after having lost to Democrat Ray Blanton in 1974:

I was through with politics. [Late Tennessean columnist] Larry Daughtrey wrote there will never be a Republican governor for 50 years after ’74. I was practicing law, trying to find a way to make money, and dabbling in business. I bought Blackberry Farm, half of it. And Howard Baker got elected Republican leader in January 1977. He called me to come up there and help him set up the leader’s office. And [Alexander’s wife] Honey said, go on, you’re not doing anything here. So I went there for three months, and I met Doug.

President Carter was already in trouble, so I thought maybe Republicans will come back. And Honey said, ‘Well I don’t want you to run again if you do like you did before — you’ve got to have a sense of purpose and you’ve got to be in touch with the people.’ So we had a big talk about it, and they said what do you like? Well he likes to be outdoors, likes to hike, likes music. So we came up with the idea of the walk and the Washboard Band and spending the night with people instead of going to Rotary Clubs.

Doug at the time, he and John Deardourff were partners, and they were the premier Republican consultants. So he put it to television. And he became very close to me, and I to him, and he was a graduate of Tufts School of Diplomacy and kind of a high-minded person. So when I was elected, he would come down every week from Washington and meet with me and Tom Ingram, and we’d talk about how to be a better governor. Ned McWherter and all of them thought we were just playing politics. We really weren’t. We were doing enough politics to be effective.

Doug worked with me for eight years and tried to help me with how do I recruit this auto company, how do we sell the Better School Program, how do we persuade legislators to vote for the gas tax. The Homecoming idea was something he was very involved in and the Community Days we had in my second campaign.

So he helped design the plan for the walk, and then Lewis Lavine and Keel Hunt went out and mapped it out. They found the families I was going to stay with, marked the route. Every day I’d go out to the X I’d put out the night before, go out and shake hands, going off and doing this and that, and by about 5 o’clock go off with the family, go to their softball game, eat dinner with them in their house. They’d have their friends over, get up in the morning, go to the factory with them, and then go back to the X and start my day. So it was planned spontaneity.

Alexander: 40,000 Tennesseans could receive COVID-19 vaccine in December

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, says Tennessee is in line to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 40,000 people in December.

Alexander tells The Tennessee Journal he received a briefing from Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, who said Tennessee could then receive enough doses for 50,000 people in the following month, and more beyond that. Slaoui told Alexander the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the summer.

“It’s a spectacular achievement, which the president should be taking credit for — in a way that convinces people,” Alexander said. But the ongoing dispute over the presidential election results could hamper the rollout of the vaccine, he said.

“You don’t want to lose a day or an hour getting those 40,000 doses to Tennesseans because the transition was sloppy,” Alexander said.

Alexander expanded on his comments last week that Trump should be allowed to examine any claims of impropriety in the election results, noting that it took Democrat Al Gore 37 days to concede in 2000. But Alexander said there’s a limit to the strategies Trump should pursue in his effort to turn the tide against Democrat Joe Biden.

“There’s a right way to contest the election — others have done it — and there’s a wrong way. And the wrong way is this business of trying to get state legislators to send a substitute slate of electors,” Alexander said. “That really crosses the line.”

Alexander: ‘Very good chance’ Biden will be president

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attends an event at the state Capitol in Nashville on Dec. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) says the Trump administration should unlock transition resources for Democrat Joe Biden.

“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement. “That especially should be true, for example, on vaccine distribution.”

Alexander’s former Senate colleague, Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga), also weighed in on Friday, saying Republicans have an obligation to “challenge demagoguery and patently false statements” in Trump’s election challenge:

Here’s the rest of Alexander’s statement:

Recounting votes and resolving disputes after a close election is not unprecedented and should reassure Americans that election results are valid.

Al Gore finally conceded 37 days after the 2000 election, and then made the best speech of his life accepting the result.

My hope is that the loser of this presidential election will follow Al Gore’s example, put the country first, congratulate the winner and help him to a good beginning of the new term.

The prompt and orderly transfer or reaffirmation of immense power after a presidential election is the most enduring symbol of our democracy.

Hagerty wins U.S. Senate race in Tennessee

Republican Bill Hagerty speaks to a reporter before casting his early vote in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Ambassador Bill Hagerty has won the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, according to The Associated Press.

Hagerty will succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) who is retiring after three terms.

“Congratulations to Bill Hagerty on tonight’s impressive victory. I have been proud to support Bill to occupy the Senate seat that Howard Baker, Al Gore, Fred Thompson and I all have held,” Alexander said in a statement. “He will be a terrific United States Senator for all Tennesseans.”

Hagerty faced Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmental activist, in the general election.

Most of the action in the Senate contest came during the Republican primary, in which Hagerty prevailed over Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi by 11 points after a spirited campaign featuring heavy outside spending.

Alexander backs Barrett confirmation to Supeme Court

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attend a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) announced he supports Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“During her confirmation hearings, Judge Barrett demonstrated respect for the law, intelligence, good character and steady temperament. Having attended college in Tennessee and law school in Indiana, her background will strengthen the Supreme Court by making it more diverse,” Alexander said in a statement.

“She is well-qualified and has said she will decide cases based upon the law, not her personal views. Judge Barrett will be an excellent Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and I will vote to confirm her nomination.”

Fellow Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) has been a vocal booster of Barrett since President Donald Trump nominated her.

Alexander supports effort to promptly vote on Ginsburg replacement

U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attend a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)


U.S. Sen Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) wants to promptly take up the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nomination to succeed the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even though he was among Republicans who argued against taking up Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination to fill a high court vacancy in 2016.

“No one should be surprised that a Republican Senate majority would vote on a Republican President’s Supreme Court nomination, even during a presidential election year,” Alexander said. “The Constitution gives senators the power to do it. The voters who elected them expect it. Going back to George Washington, the Senate has confirmed many nominees to the Supreme Court during a presidential election year. It has refused to confirm several when the President and Senate majority were of different parties. Senator McConnell is only doing what Democrat leaders have said they would do if the shoe were on the other foot.” 

“I have voted to confirm Justices Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh based upon their intelligence, character and temperament. I will apply the same standard when I consider President Trump’s nomination to replace Justice Ginsburg,” he said.

Here’s what Alexander said in 2016:

Trump says he’s firing TVA chairman over executive pay, outsourcing

President Donald Trump said he’s firing the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority over the compensation package of the public utility’s CEO and moves to outsource IT jobs.

The Associated Press reports Trump told reporters at the White House he was removing the authority’s chair of the board and another member of the board, while threatening to remove other directors if they keep hiring foreign labor.

“Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board. If you betray American workers, then you will hear two simple words ‘you’re fired,” Trump said.

The TVA chairman is James “Skip” Thompson of Decatur, Ala., one of four directors Trump appointed in his first year in office.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) in April pushed back against Trump’s attacks on TVA and Lyash.

“Attacking TVA doesn’t do one thing to solve the pandemic and has no place in federal COVID-19 response legislation. TVA does not receive one dollar in federal taxpayer subsidies or federal appropriations,” Alexander said.

The outsourcing of IT jobs became the subject of a TV ad campaign by the U.S. Tech Workers evidently seen by the president, who recently tweeted about the spot.

“Another one of many Fake T.V. ads, this one about the Tennessee Valley Authority, which for years has paid its top executive a ridiculous FORTUNE. Not run by the U.S., but I have long been fighting that crazy ‘salary’ & its policies,” Trump said in the tweet.

The leading Republican candidates for the Senate were quick to praise the president for his moves, though they focused on differing elements. Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi, who has spoken out against TVA compensation since this spring released the following statement:

President Trump was right to take action on the Tennessee Valley Authority. Our public utilities do not need overpaid bureaucrats and executives. I am grateful to see the President take these steps because it will hopefully help TVA move in the right direction- towards transparency and accountability.

Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Hagerty appeared more interested in the foreign workers element:

President Donald Trump is right, we can’t outsource American jobs at a time when our unemployment rate is higher than ever […] Our power grid is an integral component of our nation’s infrastructure and there are significant national security concerns associated with outsourcing any aspect of software or IT management to firms that may be foreign-owned, staffed or otherwise impacted. We need to put the American worker and our national security first.

Alexander opposes Trump move on WHO

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attends an event at the state Capitol in Nashville on Dec. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is speaking out against President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the United States’ membership in the World Health Organization.

Alexander (R-Maryville) is the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Pension, and Labor Committee. Here’s what he said on the WHO decision:

I disagree with the president’s decision. Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it. Withdrawing U.S. membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States. If the administration has specific recommendations for reforms of the WHO, it should submit those recommendations to Congress, and we can work together to make those happen.

While critics tend to label the retiring senator a moderate, FiveThirtyEight.com rates him among one of the more likely members to vote with the president at 90.3% of the time. Tennessee’ junior senator, Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, votes with Trump 91.9% of the time, according the site. Here’s where some senators rate in relation

  • Cruz (R-Texas): 92.4%
  • Blackburn (R-Tenn.): 91.9%
  • Scott (R-Fla.): 91.9%
  • Rubio (R-Fla.): 90.8%
  • Alexander (R-Tenn.): 90.3%
  • Cotton (R-Ark.): 87.7%
  • Graham (R-S..C.): 87.1%
  • Romney (R-Utah): 81.1%
  • Paul (R-Ky.): 69.6%

Deadline to register to vote in Aug. 6 primary is upon us

Image: Secretary of State’s office.

Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote for the Aug. 6 primary.

Registrations can be mailed or handed in to county election commissions or submitted online to through the Secretary of State’s website. Choosing the online route will make first-time voters ineligible to cast absentee ballots.

Early voting begins on July 17.

This year’s primary election includes a hard-fought contests for the Republican nominations to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City). There’s also several open races and contested primaries for state House and Senate seats.