Among freshman senators, Alexander stands out

Posted on September 29, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander didn't have to spend his freshman year in office learning the ropes. No stranger to politics, the former Tennessee governor and U.S. education secretary instead used his time building a name for himself. By breaking with the Bush administration on several issues - namely air pollution, Internet taxation and steel tariffs - Alexander displayed a bit of independence not typical of freshmen in Congress. But by picking battles where his vote wasn't essential to the Bush agenda, Alexander managed to avoid the wrath of a White House where loyalty is prized. "What he's been able to do is set upon a few issues that separate himself from (Senate Majority Leader Bill) Frist and the Bush Administration," said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "Second, he has sort of said, in not so many words, that 'I'm the senator who's going to look after Tennessee interests."' Alexander became Tennessee's junior senator in January at age 62 after an already full career that included two terms as Tennessee governor in the 1980s and two unsuccessful runs for the presidential nomination. It took several months living in the shadow of Frist, Tennessee's senior senator, before Alexander began expressing his own opinions, Oppenheimer said. Both Frist and Alexander were chosen for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, an exception to Republican rules; Alexander joined Frist on a trip to Africa this year; and the two are interested in similar issues - particularly education and health care. "You began wondering, 'Do we just have a cookie-cutter second senator?"' Oppenheimer said. But since mid-July, Alexander began making good on a campaign promise to vote for Bush "99 percent of the time" - while still being an independent thinker. Copyright 2003 Associated Press