Top committee post may help Alexander

Posted on December 15, 2006

Sen. Lamar Alexander was appointed to serve on the powerful Appropriations and Environment committees this week a carrot that he says was intended to entice him to run for re-election in 2008. Alexander, the first-term Republican senator and former governor, said he didn't want to run for re-election just because I knew how to do it. With that in mind, Alexander said he spoke with incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) about whether he would run for re-election. In an interview with The City Paper, Alexander recalled their conversation: "Sen. McConnell said, "Well I want to make sure you run again. So what can I do to help?" So I said what you can do to help is to make sure that if I'm a Senator, I can be effective for Tennessee and the country. So he went to work and that's what he did." Soon after, McConnell appointed Alexander to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee - where he'll have influence on where the federal government spends its money and can best aid Tennessee. In addition, Alexander was appointed to the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the Tennessee Valley Authority and federal road funding. Alexander said he "got everything I asked for." "It gives me a real reason to want to serve another term in the Senate, Alexander said. I'm not ready to announce that, but it gives me plenty of reason to do it." The former Tennessee governor said he'll announce his intentions on whether he seeks a second term after Jan. 1. Besides rewarding Alexander and possibly enticing him to run for re-election, the plush committee assignments could be intended to ward off a strong Democratic challenger like Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who may be more tempted to run for the Senate again if the 2008 election was for an open seat. In addition, the national Republican Party spent millions in Tennessee this year on electing Senator-elect Bob Corker and defeating Ford. They may not want a repeat of that struggle in 2008. Besides Alexander, Corker has been appointed to the Senate committees on Energy, Foreign Relations, Aging and Small Business. "I'm very pleased with my committee assignments because I believe they will allow me to focus on issues important to our state," Corker said in a statement. "Like me, Tennesseans across the state want our country to become more independent of foreign oil, and they are deeply concerned about the situation in Iraq and America's place in the world." On the Appropriations Committee, Alexander said he can help funding for projects like the Chickamauga lock in Chattanooga, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, science funding at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as education. "The power of the Senate is to spend money. That's what the Senate does,Alexander said. I'll be closer to the decision making and I'll have more say in it." In his appointment, Alexander became the first Republican Senator ever from Tennessee to be placed on the Senate Appropriations Committee. In addition, Alexander was appointed to the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight of the Tennessee Valley Authority, clean air legislation and federal funding for roads. Federal road funding typically pays for 80-90 percent of a road project in Tennessee. The four-lane highway system and the interstate system in Tennessee has been critical in our ability to attract the automobile industry," Alexander said. Finally, Alexander is the third senior Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees No Child Left Behind, among other duties. It leaves Alexander with duties that may push him to run for re-election. "The things I care about the most, education, energy, environment, TVA, job creation, "Alexander said. "I couldn't have a better set of committee assignments."