U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today addressed each house of the Tennessee General Assembly, recalling the productive bipartisanship of his two terms as governor and pledging to continue such an approach in Washington, DC. Alexander last spoke to the state legislature in 1989 as the President of the University of Tennessee.
Among his remarks, Alexander said:
“Washington needs leaders who want to work across party lines to solve big problems. I want to do that and I have plenty of experience doing that... One way to help do these things is to borrow six words from my late friend Alex Haley who would say, ‘Find the Good and Praise It.’
I don't have to look far to find a good example to praise of how to do things differently. Nearly thirty years ago the United States Attorney in Nashville asked me to be sworn in early as governor to prevent the incumbent governor from pardoning criminals who had paid cash for their release.
That U.S. Attorney, Hal Hardin, was a Democrat appointed by President Carter. He was working with another Democrat, State Attorney General William Leech. And the entire Democratic leadership showed up at my early swearing in.
Speaker Ned McWherter said, ‘We are Tennesseans first.’ I'd like to hear a few more people in Washington say, ‘We are Americans first.’
It's not easy, but we're making progress. In January, independent Senator Joe Lieberman and I started a weekly bipartisan breakfast just to force into the schedule more opportunities for senators to work together. We've had between 12 and 40 senators from both parties at those breakfasts.
For example, last week we discussed how to make sure every American has health insurance, specifically, how to get Republicans to support universal coverage and Democrats to support free markets. We need to spend more time like this, working together on what really counts and less time on petty, kindergarten games.
Perhaps my greatest compliment came from one Washington insider who said when I was fighting some unfunded mandate, ‘The problem with Lamar is that he hasn't gotten over being governor.’ When I get over being governor is when you should bring me home. My job is to put Tennessee in D.C., not the other way around.”