Alexander rips inaction on Graves bid

Posted on May 1, 2008

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., blasted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday for his "insult" to Memphis, "affront" to African-Americans and "playpen partisan politics" with the TVA board nomination of Memphian Bishop William H. Graves. In unusually blunt language for a senator, Alexander, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, demanded in a letter that Graves' renomination, pending since last July, be taken up, along with the nomination of Susan Williams of Knoxville. Graves, a 10-year member of the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division board of directors, was the first Memphian and the first African-American man nominated to the Tennessee Valley Authority board since 1933 when President Bush named him in 2006. He was confirmed, served until the end of a term last year and was renominated. Reid informed Alexander in a letter April 14 that he did not support proceeding with the nominations, citing the number of Republicans approved for the board. Graves, 71, is a self-described registered Democrat who says he votes independent, although he served as Shelby County co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in 2004. Reid's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Alexander's letter. Graves did not return a phone call left at his office. Graves was originally put forward by Bush after former Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., sponsored successful legislation to modernize the management structure of the New Deal-era authority and increase its board from three to nine members. After the structure was put in place, Bush nominated mostly Republican-leaning business people and, finally, Graves. At the time, speculation that President Bush would nominate Memphian Herman Morris, the former head of MLGW, the TVA's largest client utility, had been rampant. In his letter, Alexander said the hold on the Graves and Williams nominations "astounds me," adding, "if you succeed, you would overturn 75 years of federal law and custom. "Your actions insult the Mid-South's largest city, Memphis. Until Bishop Graves' appointment in 2006, a Memphian had never served on the TVA board," Alexander wrote. "Your actions are an affront to more than one and a half million African-Americans in the seven-state TVA region. Until the appointment of Bishop Graves -- the presiding bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church -- an African-American had never served on the TVA board," he added. Born in Brownsville to a pair of sharecroppers, Graves has served as pastor in Atlanta; Gary, Ind.; Beloit, Wis.; and Los Angeles before coming to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Alexander also pointed out that the law does not address the partisan qualifications of board members but that Reid's letter suggesting Bush appoint a Democrat overturned that custom. In a statement, Bob Corker, Tennessee's junior senator, said he was "frustrated" by the Senate's inaction, which he called "politically motivated."