Posted on September 26, 2011
By Frank White
Just when I make a statement that there are no real statesmen left, Lamar Alexander jumps up to remind me he is still on the scene.
Tennessee’s senior senator has stepped down from his leadership role in the Republican Senate leadership as a move of principle over politics. How encouraging!
Alexander is indeed a statesman and a consummate politician.
I recall my first encounter with Alexander in the summer of 1978 when he was running for Tennessee governor. At the invitation of a brave young staff major, Alexander visited Tennessee Guard soldiers at Camp Shelby, MS.
I thought the major was committing career suicide for taking the risk and that Alexander was wasting his time making the visit. He was strolling into political territory owned by Carl Wallace, Ned McWherter and Tom Elam, all former Guardsmen who had political rule in the western part of the state.
I also thought there wasn’t much chance of a Republican grabbing the Tennessee governor’s residence. That had happened only once at that time since the Great Depression.
By the end of the week, as I watched Alexander make himself at home in the barracks with a West Tennessee infantry battalion rather than in the VIP quarters, I realize he was a master campaigner.
When he took the oath of office that cold January day in 1979 on Legislative Plaza, I correctly predicted he would be the state’s first governor to serve two consecutive terms. He proved to be one of the state’s best governors ranking alongside Ned McWherter.
With that historical backdrop, we find Alexander now more than 30 years later being unconventional in the interest of doing what is right. Alexander believes he can be more influential as a consensus builder that preaching the party line.
At a time when politics at the national and state level are becoming more stridently polarized, it is encouraging to see a statesman move for consensus to solve problems rather than increasing the rhetoric for party position and power.
Lamar Alexander – a true statesman. Perhaps he could mentor a new class of leadership.