The Daily Times: Sen. Lamar Alexander gives up leadership post, but not work

Posted on January 28, 2012

He may have rejoined the rank-and-file after four years in Senate leadership, but U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., still wants to lead by example.

Alexander, a Maryville native, stepped down as GOP Conference chairman on Wednesday.

Fellow Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has taken his place in the No. 3 spot.

Right out of the gate, though, the seasoned legislator is already working with a Democratic senator to develop legislation based on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which provides a blueprint for deficit reduction.

“A lot of people have talked about its ideas, but nobody really has written a bill to implement it,” Alexander said in an interview. “We’re going to try to do that.”

Crossing the aisle on the legislation is motivated by pragmatism more than anything else, he said.

“My goal in the Senate is not to be bipartisan — it’s to get results. That’s what the people expect,” he said.

“If it takes 60 votes to pass anything of importance in the Senate ... unless I can persuade 13 Democrats to go along with me, I’m not going to be able to get anything done.”

Getting things done is something that Alexander can better accomplish as a regular member of the Senate, he said.

“If I waited for the entire Republican Caucus to move on it, I’d still be waiting. Sometimes, it’s easier to provide leadership outside the elected leadership than inside it.”

‘Bushel’ of issues

Alexander is ready to start moving on a great many issues, he said. “I’ve got a whole bushel full of things I’m working on. One is fixing No Child Left Behind.

“I don’t think ... we need Washington telling us which teachers are succeeding and which schools are succeeding,” he said. “I’d like to work on returning that responsibility to the state.”

Leaving his leadership office behind has freed up Alexander to focus on what he finds most important. “I have the same priorities I had when I was a member of the leadership team, but I have a lot more time. I spent 25-30 percent of my time on my leadership responsibilities, which included political messaging.”

Other issues that Alexander wants to tackle include cleaner air in the Smokies, mercury clean-up at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, finding a place for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel, and encouraging the use of nuclear power to meet the nation’s energy needs.

Plug online loophole

The senator also hopes to plug a loophole that allows online retailers to not collect sales tax.

“The state doesn’t have the power to collect the sales tax that is owed when people make purchases online,” he said. “It discriminates against Main Street businesses on Broadway. (Customers) do have to pay sales taxes when they buy (something) in Maryville, but they don’t when they buy it from India or when they buy it from Canada.”

In December 2007, Senate Republicans chose Alexander to succeed Conference Chairman Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., after he succeeded Sen. Trent Lott, of Mississippi, as whip. Alexander was re-elected to the leadership position without opposition in November 2008 and again in November 2010. Alexander previously said he plans to run for re-election in 2014.