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Sen. Lamar Alexander (R)

Tennessee

N/A

alexander.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2002, term expires 2020, 3rd term.

Born: July 3, 1940, Maryville

Home: Nashville

Education: Vanderbilt U., B.A. 1962, N.Y.U., J.D. 1965

Professional Career: Pres., Univ. of TN, 1988-91; U.S. Secy. of Ed., 1991-93; Co-director, Empower America, 1994-95; Prof., Harvard U. JFK Schl. of Govt., 2001-02.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Presbyterian

Family: married (Honey) , 4 children

Lamar Alexander, former governor of Tennessee, U.S. Education secretary, and Republican presidential aspirant, was elected to the Senate in 2002. His biography isn’t all that sets him apart: He holds the unusual distinction of attaining a high-ranking Senate GOP leadership post only to later resign from it, because he said the job interfered with his attempts at bipartisanship. He took over the chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in 2015.

Alexander grew up Maryville, in East Tennessee between Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, the son of a principal and a teacher. He started piano lessons at age 4 and still plays. He went to school at Vanderbilt University, where in the early 1960s he wrote editorials for the school newspaper urging integration. He went on to get a law degree from New York University and then clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1966, he wrote to Republican Howard Baker, volunteering to work in Baker’s Senate campaign against Democrat Frank Clement. Instead, Baker gave him a job on his Washington staff. In 1969, on Baker’s recommendation, Alexander got a job working for President Richard Nixon’s congressional liaison, Bryce Harlow. On a trip back to Tennessee in 1970, he met Memphis dentist Winfield Dunn, who was running for governor, and Alexander agreed to manage his campaign. Dunn became the first Republican elected governor in 50 years.

Tennessee governors were limited to one four-year term in those days, and Alexander decided that next time, he would be the candidate. So in 1974, at age 34, he ran for governor. He ran a conventional campaign and in that Watergate year, he lost 55%-44% to Democratic Rep. Ray Blanton. He ran again in 1978—Tennessee had changed its law by then to allow two consecutive terms—this time with a more colorful campaign strategy: Wearing a red plaid shirt, Alexander walked 1,000 miles across Tennessee. He faced Blanton and won 56%-44%.

After the election, Blanton started issuing many pardons of criminals, who, it turned out, were paying him bribes. The U.S. attorney urged that Alexander be sworn in three days early, and Democratic legislative leaders and the state’s chief justice agreed. In a hurried ceremony, Alexander took the oath and announced that he was naming Fred Thompson, famous for his work as Baker’s chief counsel in the Senate Watergate hearings, as special prosecutor. In office, Alexander attended a White House meeting where President Jimmy Carter urged governors to get Japanese auto manufacturers to build cars in the United States; he responded by flying to Japan and persuading Nissan to build its first American plant in Rutherford County. He also persuaded General Motors to build its innovative Saturn plant in Williamson County. The plants became the sparkplugs of rapid growth in the counties around Nashville. Alexander was reelected 60%-40% in 1982. After leaving office he spent six months living in Australia, writing a book called Six Months Off. In 1988, he became president of the University of Tennessee and in 1991, he was appointed George H.W. Bush’s Education secretary.

In 1994, Alexander was after a bigger prize: the White House. He campaigned in 1996 as an outsider, wore his red plaid shirt and called, as Baker often had, for citizen-politicians. Of members of Congress, he said, “Cut their pay and bring them home!” He ran on a message of decentralizing government, and he had a superb fundraising organization that made Nashville one of the leading Republican money sources in the nation. He hired top-notch political consultants and organizers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Alexander finished third in the Iowa caucuses, behind Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan and ahead of Steve Forbes. New Hampshire was his best chance for a breakthrough. Five days before the primary, Dole ran ads attacking Alexander, a shrewd strategy. Buchanan was likely to do well in New Hampshire, but probably could never be nominated. The candidate who finished second in New Hampshire would likely be his chief rival and easily win the nomination. So it turned out. Buchanan won with 27% of the vote, and Dole got 26% and later the Republican nomination. Alexander, in third place with 23%, dropped by the wayside.

Alexander started running for president again in 1999. But the plaid shirt and the 1994-style themes failed to resonate. George W. Bush, with his celebrity and his fundraising, dominated the race, and Forbes’ extensive campaigning in Iowa left little room for Alexander. His fundraising faltered, and after his disappointing sixth-place finish in the August 1999 straw poll, he dropped out and endorsed Bush. He was later interviewed by Dick Cheney as a possible vice presidential nominee, but the job went to Cheney. Critical of the frontloaded presidential primary calendar, Alexander in 2007 was a chief co-sponsor of legislation to implement a system of rotating regional primaries.

In March 2002, less than a month before the filing deadline, Thompson announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate. He gave Alexander a heads-up on his decision, allowing Alexander to get his campaign underway shortly after the announcement. Republican Rep. Ed Bryant of suburban Memphis also got into the race, even though some Republicans tried to talk him out of it. On talk radio shows, Alexander ran a series of “plain talk” ads taking conservative stands on taxes, charter schools, and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bryant’s ads urged, “Don’t be plaid. Be solid for Bryant.” And he emphasized that Alexander increased the sales and gasoline taxes as governor. But Alexander won 54%-44%.

In the general election, his opponent was Democratic Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville, the center of the state’s largest media market. Clement had a relatively moderate voting record, having supported the Bush tax cuts and the 2002 Iraq war resolution. Clement depicted Alexander as a political insider who became wealthy through political connections. Alexander charged that Clement, while public service commissioner in the 1970s, served on the board of one of the banks of Jake Butcher, whose banks imploded in scandal in the 1980s. Clement maintained that it was an advisory board and his work on it was a decade before the scandal. Alexander prevailed 54%-44%. He won 63% in his native (and ancestrally Republican) East Tennessee, which cast nearly 40% of the vote. Clement carried Nashville’s Davidson County and rural counties in Middle Tennessee, but Alexander carried the fast-growing ring of suburban counties around Nashville and held Clement to 53% in Middle Tennessee. In West Tennessee, Alexander made some inroads among Memphis blacks and carried the rural counties. On his office wall in the Senate, he mounted not the usual array of framed photographs but a 27-foot authentic barn wall, with 40 antique items (a guitar made of matchsticks, a banjo made from a fruitcake tin) on loan from The Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn.

Taking over as HELP chairman in 2015, Alexander was expected to push a bill to balance out the National Labor Relations Board with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. And he was expected to play a part in the GOP push to chip away at the Affordable Care Act. But he was especially determined to deal with the No Child Left Behind education law. He had inveighed against the 2001 law’s theory that the federal government should hold states accountable for students’ progress. He introduced a 387-page draft intended to spur discussion that tossed out two possible approaches. One option proposed giving states latitude on how they assess students by choosing to test only in certain grade spans, use portfolios, combine the results of different formative assessments, or try out competency-based tests. "I would like to move back toward the traditional responsibility of state and local governments" in education, he told reporters. A second option called for retaining the current testing schedule, but allowing local districts to use their own assessment systems with the state's approval.

Earlier on the HELP Committee, Alexander worked on successful bills to help states ensure special education teachers meet federal standards, to give parents more choice in special education services, and to create summer academies for teachers and students to study American history. He also proposed creating $4,000 scholarships for private schools for students in failing public schools. As a former secretary of Education, Alexander opposed greater involvement by the federal government in federal student loans, comparing it to the “European-Soviet higher education model.” On a key labor issue for their state, Alexander and fellow Tennessee Republican Bob Corker held up the Federal Aviation Administration authorization in spring 2010 over their opposition to a House provision increasing the power of labor unions to organize Memphis-based FedEx.

Alexander sometimes has parted with his party on the environment. He joined Delaware Democrat Tom Carper’s bill to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and to create a system of emissions trading, both of which the Bush White House opposed. Air pollution had been high in Knoxville and threatening the tourism industry in the Great Smoky Mountains area. To counter the effects of a federal court ruling, he also pushed to restrict emissions from coal-fired power plants. For his ongoing support of the Great Smoky Mountains and its environmental quality, researchers in 2007 named a newly discovered bug in the park after Alexander, calling it the Cosberalla lamaralexandrei. (They said that its checkerboard markings reminded them of Alexander’s trademark red and black flannel shirts.) Later, Alexander in 2009 actively opposed the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill to create a system of emissions trading, though it was similar to the one he had supported with Carper.

Alexander has been a champion of alternative energy, and with the GOP takeover of the Senate in 2015 he took over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel on energy and water development. In 2009, he called for 100 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years and conversion of half the country’s automobiles to electric power. Alexander bucked his own party on an Environmental Protection Agency smog rule in 2011. When the rule, aimed at limiting pollution from power plants, was implemented in 2011, Alexander was one of six Republicans to cross party lines and oppose a move by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to block the regulation from going forward. “There’s a lot I admire about our neighbors in Kentucky, including their two distinguished United States senators, but I don’t want their dirty air blowing into Tennessee,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

He sounded a bipartisan note on other issues as well. He voted for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, in August 2009, but voted against his other nominee to the high court, Elena Kagan, in August 2010. He cited Kagan’s action as Harvard Law School dean barring military recruiters from the school. Alexander opposed the Democrats’ health care overhaul, telling the Tennessee Tribune that it was “arrogant in its dumping of 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to be a part of for our health care.” After the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre sparked debates over gun control, he told MSNBC: “I think video games are a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.”

On another front-burner issue, immigration reform, Alexander has supported measures to designate English as the national language, and in 2008, he introduced a bill to protect employers from language-based anti-discrimination lawsuits. He and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced a measure in 2012 to create a new temporary visa for immigrants working in high-tech fields. He was one of 14 Senate Republicans to support the Gang of Eight's comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

In 2011, he helped craft legislation in to enable states to compel online retailers collect sales taxes from consumers after previous attempts to implement Internet sales taxes failed to get traction. The issue had been especially divisive in Tennessee, where Amazon.com began building distribution centers but declined to collect sales taxes until it recently agreed to do so beginning in 2014. Alexander had bipartisan support for his bill, joining forces with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Alexander also was a co-sponsor of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill opposed by much of Silicon Valley. But the measure had support from Alexander’s constituents in Nashville, where country music artists and songwriters have been concerned about Internet piracy. When public opposition to the bill grew, with an Internet “black out” day sponsored by Wikipedia and Google, Alexander and Corker conceded that it had little chance of passage.

Alexander waded into the controversy over Senate filibusters in 2015, joining with Utah Sen. Mike Lee on a resolution to abandon the procedure for all nominations, including those to the Supreme Court. But the idea met with fierce resistance from both parties. 

In his early years in the Senate, Alexander sought to become part of his party’s leadership. When Senate Republican Leader Frist decided to retire in 2005, GOP Whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was poised to replace him as leader. Alexander courted votes to take McConnell’s spot as whip. But after the 2006 election, former majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi got into the contest. Although Alexander claimed he had sufficient votes to win, Lott prevailed 25-24. When Lott resigned from the Senate in December 2007, GOP Conference Chairman Jon Kyl was elected whip, and Alexander ran for conference chairman. North Carolina's Richard Burr also ran and pulled support from younger conservatives. Alexander won 31-16, although he showed deference to those on his right by striving to be inclusive—Burr, for example, was assigned to manage promotion of the GOP health care plan. When Kyl announced in 2011 that he would retire in 2012, Alexander again expressed interest in the whip’s job.

But in September 2011, Alexander announced that he was resigning his position as Republican Conference chairman. The move baffled much of Washington, a town where people seldom relinquish power voluntarily. “Stepping down from the Republican leadership will liberate me to spend more time working for results on issues that I care most about,” he said. However, he insisted that he was still a “very Republican Republican.” Indeed, his conservative vote rating in National Journal’s rankings dipped less than 1 percentage point between 2011 and 2012, although his status as the chamber’s 39th most conservative member put him close to the bottom. He dipped in 2013 to become the 40th most conservative member, two notches below Corker and tied with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

Alexander’s path to reelection in 2008 was relatively easy. After more prominent Tennessee Democrats passed on the race, former state Democratic Chairman Robert Tuke got his party’s nod, but raised only $800,000 to Alexander’s $8.3 million. Alexander won 65%-32%, carrying 94 of 95 counties, including Memphis’s black-majority Shelby County. It was the highest percentage ever for a Tennessee Republican senator.

Hoping to avoid the fate of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost a 2012 primary to a tea-party challenger, Alexander kicked off his 2014 reelection effort early, announcing a team that included popular Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and all of the Tennessee delegation’s GOP members except for scandal-ridden Rep. Scott DesJarlais. By March 2014, he had a war chest of $3.2 million, and no serious tea-party contenders had emerged. He prevailed in the August primary, 50%-41% over state Rep. Joe Carr, with four other candidates splitting the remaining vote. “Both Gov. Haslam and I are conservatives. We both know how to give a pretty good conservative speech," Alexander said in his post-election remarks. "But we also both know that our job is not over when the speech is finished." He had little trouble against Democrat Gordon Ball in the fall, winning by more than 30 percentage points.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4944

(202) 228-3398

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 455
Washington, DC 20510-4206

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-4944

(202) 228-3398

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 455
Washington, DC 20510-4206

DISTRICT OFFICE

(865) 545-4253

(865) 545-4252

Howard H. Baker, Jr United States Courthouse Suite 112
Knoxville, TN 37902-2303

DISTRICT OFFICE

(865) 545-4253

(865) 545-4252

Howard H. Baker, Jr United States Courthouse Suite 112
Knoxville, TN 37902-2303

DISTRICT OFFICE

(615) 736-5129

(615) 269-4803

3322 West End Avenue Suite 120
Nashville, TN 37203-6821

DISTRICT OFFICE

(615) 736-5129

(615) 269-4803

3322 West End Avenue Suite 120
Nashville, TN 37203-6821

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 325-6240

(423) 325-6236

Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Terminal Building, #101
Blountville, TN 37617-6366

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 325-6240

(423) 325-6236

Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Terminal Building, #101
Blountville, TN 37617-6366

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 752-5337

(423) 752-5342

Joel E. Soloman Federal Building Room 260
Chattanooga, TN 37402-2240

DISTRICT OFFICE

(423) 752-5337

(423) 752-5342

Joel E. Soloman Federal Building Room 260
Chattanooga, TN 37402-2240

DISTRICT OFFICE

(731) 664-0289

(731) 664-3129

Federal Building Suite D
Jackson, TN 38305-3772

DISTRICT OFFICE

(731) 664-0289

(731) 664-3129

Federal Building Suite D
Jackson, TN 38305-3772

DISTRICT OFFICE

(901) 544-4224

(901) 544-4227

Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building Suite 1068
Memphis, TN 38103-1858

DISTRICT OFFICE

(901) 544-4224

(901) 544-4227

Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building Suite 1068
Memphis, TN 38103-1858

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Aerospace

John Rivard
Legislative Fellow

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Agriculture

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Appropriations

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Mackensie Burt
Projects Manager

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David Cleary
Staff Director

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

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Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Budget

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Campaign

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Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

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Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Crime

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

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Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Education

David Cleary
Staff Director

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Peter Oppenheim
Education Policy Director; Counsel

Energy

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Environment

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Family

David Cleary
Staff Director

Finance

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Foreign

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Govt Ops

Grants

Mackensie Burt
Projects Manager

Gun Issues

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Allison Martin
Legislative Director; Counsel

Mary-Sumpter Lapinski
Health Policy Director

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Homeland Security

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Housing

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Human Rights

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Intelligence

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Internet

Dan Soto
Director of Information Technology

Judiciary

Labor

Lindsey Seidman
Deputy Staff Director

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Native Americans

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Privacy

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Public Works

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Mackensie Burt
Projects Manager

Recreation

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Science

John Rivard
Legislative Fellow

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

John Rivard
Legislative Fellow

Telecommunications

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Kayla McMurry
Legislative Correspondent

Veterans

Erin Reif
Senior Policy Advisor for National Security

Lucas Da Pieve
Legislative Correspondent

Welfare

Paul McKernan
Legislative Assistant

Will Patterson
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2008 GENERAL
Lamar Alexander
Votes: 1,579,477
Percent: 65.14%
Robert Tuke
Votes: 767,236
Percent: 31.64%
2008 PRIMARY
Lamar Alexander
Votes: 244,222
Percent: 100.0%
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (54%); Governor: 1978 (56%), 1982 (60%)

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