Tennessean - Larry Bivins
WASHINGTON — A wave of nostalgia washed over Lamar Alexander yesterday as he traveled the corridors of the Capitol, priming himself for the legislative priorities he will handle as the newest senator from Tennessee.
"This is a very special day for me," the Republican senator-elect said in his cramped transition office in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where he will work for about three months, according to aides.
Alexander said he took his son, Will, interim chief of staff Tom Ingram and executive assistant Bonnie Sansonetti to lunch in the Senate dining room. He said the first time he dined there was as the 17-year-old guest of Sen. Estes Kefauver.
Alexander reminisced about his first job in Washington as a legislative assistant to Sen. Howard Baker in 1967. He recalled how Baker had to share an office for about four months with Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
As a former secretary of education, White House staff member and Senate aide, Alexander has plenty of memories from his years inside Washington's political scene. But his best memories from those years, he said, are of Honey, the woman who became his wife. The two met while Honey Alexander, then Honey Buhler, was working for Sen. John Tower of Texas.
"This brings back lots of memories for me," Alexander said of his settling in. "Even the telephone number is the same - 202-224-4944 - as the telephone number for Howard Baker in 1967."
It also was the phone number for the man Alexander replaced, former GOP Sen. Fred Thompson, who retired. Alexander is holding a reception today to honor Thompson and Baker.
In the House, Jim Cooper, Marsha Blackburn and Lincoln Davis will be sworn in today as the newest members of the Tennessee delegation.
Alexander said he is eager to begin work on his own legislative agenda, even though he has not filled all his staff positions. He said he hopes to aid Tennessee by helping to push through a clean air proposal, a new transportation bill and energy deregulation that maintains low rates for TVA customers.
He has been named to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, his only committee seat so far. He said his hand has been strengthened by the recent election of fellow Tennessean Bill Frist as Senate majority leader.
"We have a good, easy relationship," Alexander said. "We'll work very well together. It'll be very good for Tennessee and the rest of the country to have Bill Frist in that position."
Alexander said he supports the dividends tax cut proposal that President Bush is expected to announce today. He said he also supports the GOP positions on terrorism, taxes and spending. But he added that he would not be a rubber stamp for the administration or GOP leadership.
Alexander acknowledged that, despite all his Washington experience, he has some learning to do.
"I'm a rookie," he said. "I may be a seasoned rookie, but I'm a rookie. I know that, and it's going to take some time to learn the ropes."