Memphis Commercial Appeal - James Brosnan
WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Monday described his partnership for Tennessee with new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) this way: "I'll do the prep work, and he can do the incision."
While the tireless Frist will continue to pull his share of the home-state chores, Alexander said the major difference now is that when Frist makes a call on behalf of the Tennessee Valley Authority or Soulsville in Memphis, "people are probably going to work hard to do what he says."
"I want to be an ambassador to Washington from Tennessee, not a Washington ambassador to Tennessee. So I will be home a lot," Alexander told Tennessee reporters. "Bill will be setting his own schedule. We're going to work together to make sure it's a net plus and not a net negative for the state."
As Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was vacating the majority leader's office suite on the second floor of the Capitol for Frist Monday, Alexander and his growing staff were settling into eight cubicle-sized rooms in the basement of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, their home for the next few months until a permanent office is assigned.
Alexander noted that at least he has the same phone number as Fred Thompson and indeed the same number as his old Senate boss, Howard Baker.
The 62-year-old former governor described himself as a "seasoned rookie, but still a rookie" in the Senate. He gets no extra credit in seniority consideration for having served as secretary of Education. He officially became a senator at noon on Friday but will be sworn in today when Congress convenes.
Alexander has been assured of being assigned to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he can work on legislation affecting the Tennessee Valley Authority and Smoky Mountains National Park, but he is awaiting other assignments.
Alexander's first public event as a senator Monday was a ceremony at the Pentagon where the Memphis Belle War Memorial Foundation donated a portrait of the World War II B17.
Just as he did in the Senate campaign, Alexander touted the Belle as an example of why the teaching of American history and civics needs to be re-emphasized in the schools, saying the plane symbolizes an era when people knew very well what the country stood for.
Frist posed for photographs with other new members of the Senate leadership, but took no questions. He used a Senate Russell Building office to avoid any embarrassment to Lott, who was forced to step down because of his controversial remarks in praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid.