MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Around this time of year 42 years ago, Lamar Alexander was building a team and preparing to move from Blount County to the Governor’s mansion. Twenty years prior to his election victory, he was class president at Maryville High School. It was a fitting backdrop for an exit-interview, as U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) now prepares to retire from elected office in a few weeks.
Alexander, Tennessee’s longest-serving statewide politician, credits his more than 40 years of public service to his Maryville upbringing. “My parents taught me that life is a gift and you’re supposed to make something of it and they taught me to respect public service,” he said.
Looking back on the last four years, Alexander believes the administration’s successes include a large number of conservative judges confirmed, tax reform, fewer regulations, a strong pre-pandemic economy, and rapid COVID-19 vaccine development. Many political experts consider Alexander a moderate because of his willingness to worth with lawmakers from the other party. He disagrees. “If I want to fix No Child Left Behind in the United States Senate, I have to get Democrats to work with me to do that. That doesn’t make me moderate. I’ve still got conservative principles. They’ve probably got liberal principles. But, i want to get a result.”
Sen. Alexander has worked with most Presidents since Nixon. He even ran as the Republican nominee for President in 1996 and 2000. While he worked closely with the Trump Administration on several issues, he also publicly criticized the President on several issues, including the call the lead to an impeachment trial earlier this year. “What I hope is that Tennesseans respect me for trying to do the right thing…For example, in the impeachment, I thought President Trump’s call was completely inappropriate. To call the President of another country and try to get him to investigate your potential opponent. It’s clear he did it. I also thought it was clear that that’s not ground to impeach him, take him from office, and take him off the ballot. I thought we should leave it to the people.”
The outgoing lawmaker began our discussion by expressing gratitude. “I get up almost every day thinking I have a chance to do something to help the country and I go to bed most nights thinking I have. What I’d like people to know it’s been a real privilege to be a United States Senator.” Among notable legislation he’s been part in the Senate including Every Student Succeeds Act, 21st Century Cures Act, the Opioid Crisis Response Act, and most recently, the Great American Outdoors Act. He’s proud of the legislation and the bipartisan support he’s garnered over the years.
While Washington may be divided, Alexander noted it’s been divided before; instead, he thinks today it is divided differently by what he calls “internet democracy.” “It drives everything to the extremes. It makes it hard to work in the middle and get a result, say to deal with COVID, or to be first in the world in supercomputing or fix the parks. It just makes it harder…Somehow, we’ve got to learn to live with that because it drives the political parties to the left and right.”
On whether he’ll miss Washington, he said “not really,” though he will miss the friendships and potential to make a difference. He’s looking forward to retiring back home to Blount County.
January 3, 2021 Republican Bill Hagerty will officially be sworn-in to replace Alexander in the U.S. Senate.