Analysis pegs Lamar Alexander as most bipartisan in Tennessee

Author: Bill Theobald

Posted on January 19, 2010

When it comes to President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, Sen. Lamar Alexander hasn't done a very good job of following the admonition to not say anything about someone if you can't say something nice.

He invoked disgraced President Richard Nixon when he suggested that Obama's White House might be creating an enemies list of political opponents to punish. He said the Democratic health-care reform proposal would slash "Grandma's" Medicare. He called the Democratic proposal "historic in its arrogance."

So it comes as a surprise to find Alexander among the Republican senators who most often supported Obama in his votes in 2009 and who most often voted against the majority of his own party.

Those two nuggets come from the 2009 version of the annual vote studies by Congressional Quarterly released last week. CQ analyzes selected votes to measure party unity and support for the president.

On party unity, Alexander shows up eighth among the 40 Republican senators for voting 23.3 percent of the time against the majority of his own party. He ranks fifth among GOP senators for his support of Obama, voting 68.4 percent of the time for the president's position on an issue when it was clearly stated.

The Obama support percentage is in part because of votes Alexander took in favor of funding for troops and for eliminating defense spending recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration. Others were in favor of confirming presidential nominees, in line with Alexander's belief that presidents should be given deference on their selections.

"Senator Alexander said when he ran for the Senate, 'I have conservative principles and an independent attitude,' and he has voted that way, even though the Senate has become somewhat more partisan," spokesman Jim Jeffries said.

Overall, the study found that Congress is as partisan as ever and that Obama won a lot of votes in his first year in office.

On party unity, the CQ analysis found that House Democrats voted 91 percent of the time with their party on votes in which the majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans. On those so-called party unity votes, House Republicans stuck with their own 87 percent of the time. In the Senate, the party unity scores were 91 percent for Democrats and 85 percent for Republicans.

Obama, CQ found, won a record 96.7 percent of votes on issues in which his views were known.

Blackburn called most partisan

Among the Tennessee delegation, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was scored the most partisan — and one of the most partisan members of the House — voting with the majority of her party on these party unity votes 98.8 percent of the time. She also ranked the highest among Tennessee House members, and among the highest nationally, for opposing Obama in 88.7 percent of the votes that were studied.

Party unity scores for the other members of the Middle Tennessee House delegation are: Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Murfreesboro, 93 percent; Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Pall Mall, and Rep. John Tanner, D-Union City, both 89 percent; and Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, 83 percent.

Gordon ranked highest in presidential support with 92 percent, followed by Tanner at 86 percent, Cooper at 85 and Davis at 83.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker supported Obama's position in 54 percent of his votes and had a party unity score of 87 percent.

Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, said support scores in the first year of a presidency are often skewed by the willingness of some members of the opposing party to support the president's nominees.

Alexander's ranking for opposing his party and backing Obama also may be less about Alexander and more about the changing composition of congressional Republicans, Oppenheimer said.

"Leaving Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe aside and perhaps George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana on some issues, there are no other moderate Republicans in the Senate anymore," he said.