Obama Praises Lamar Alexander for Being ‘Focused on Getting Stuff Done’

Fresh off a successful re-election campaign in which Lamar Alexander promised that going forward he’ll be a pugnacious foil to Barack Obama’s liberal agenda, the president praised Tennessee’s senior senator by name at a bill-signing this week.

In the Oval Office Wednesday, President Obama described Alexander and Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, as “some pretty productive legislators who actually have focused on getting stuff done,” USAToday reported.

The occasion was the president penning his signature to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The legislation is a “reauthorization” of an existing program that a press release from Sen. Alexander’s office said will “expand access to and improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children.”

Alexander said the program, which the release described as having “been due for reauthorization since 2002,” would “help nearly 21,000 Tennessee families not only afford to enroll their children in child care, but be able to choose the care that is best for their family.” In a Nov. 17 floor speech just prior to the measure passing 88-1 in the Senate, Alexander said the CCDBG Act exemplifies legislation that Republicans “especially like” because it “is a block grant to the states, which gives states flexibility with a minimum number of federal rules.”

It also “includes vouchers” that the recipients can use to “choose among (their) various options for child care,” he said.

“It is exactly the kind of legislating that we ought to be doing in the internet age,” said Alexander. “It doesn’t mandate from Washington, it enables from Washington.”

Obama indicated that it tends to please him when Democrats and Republicans work together to send him legislation.

“I love signing bills,” the president said, adding that he’d “like to do it more often.”

Obama’s remarks could indicate he also likes the prospect of working closely with Alexander when the GOP takes charge of the Senate in January and, as is widely anticipated, Tennessee’s ranking U.S. Senate lawmaker takes over for Harkin as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

At the signing ceremony Harkin noted to President Obama the CCDBG Act was the 21st bill over the past two years that he and Alexander had teamed up on to guide through the HELP committee and get passed into law. Obama responded, “Well, that’s because you and Lamar are some pretty productive legislators who actually have focused on getting stuff done.”

Throughout his re-election campaign bid, Alexander and the TNGOP portrayed the former governor as a stalwart opponent to the president. On the other hand, Alexander’s unsuccessful challengers in the primary and general election, former Republican state Rep. Joe Carr and Democrat Gordon Ball, a Knoxville attorney, argued that Alexander has in fact tended to operate and vote more cooperatively with the administration than he was letting on in his campaign.

Womick Challenges Harwell, GOP Establishment

Rick Womick doesn’t think Beth Harwell has “fully lived up to her responsibilities” as speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

And because she needs to be “held accountable” for her actions over the past year — both in support of Gov. Bill Haslam’s agenda and advancing her own political ambitions — Womick, a conservative Rockvale Republican who just won a third term in the statehouse earlier this month, has decided to take on the establishment-favored Harwell for the lower chamber’s highest post.

“The reason I got into it is because nobody else was willing to run against her, and I said well I’m not going to let her get by with this,” Womick told TNReport this week.

“Instead of serving the people who elected her,” Womick said of Harwell, who just won her 14th term in the Legislature, she’s been focused on raising “an enormous amount of campaign money for her own personal gain and use.”

Womick claims Harwell, who has acknowledged she’s open to a future gubernatorial run, “is sitting right now on $1.3 million that she’s raised over three-and-a-half years on the backs of her fellow legislators.”

“That’s not what we elected her to do,” he said.

According to the most recent state campaign finance reports, Harwell has $660,536 in her campaign fund and $657,407 in Harwell PAC funds.

Additionally, Womick charges that Harwell did “absolutely nothing” to help protect conservative GOP state reps in the August primary.  Instead, she tacitly endorsed an effort by supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam to target incumbent Republicans who the administration felt were getting in the way of Haslam’s agenda.

“She and I sat down and talked about it, and she promised me that wasn’t going to happen,” Womick said. “And it did happen, and she has not spoken out against it.”

Womick, who earlier this year called Haslam a “traitor to the party,” said high-ranking members of the governor’s staff “admitted to being involved in trying to find somebody to run against me.”

Haslam has denied having any direct say in who his supporters target during election season. Harwell said much the same thing. She told TNReport via email on Friday that “an independent group of private individuals chose to get involved in some primaries, which is their prerogative.”

“I can only fully control my own contributions, and I supported our House Republicans, just as I have done for two decades in various capacities,” Harwell added.

Harwell also defended her performance as speaker since the GOP took majority control of the Legislature. She said it “has been such a privilege” to lead the House under Republican dominance, which has been a “great opportunity” for the party to make the Tennessee General Assembly “align with our conservative principles: lower taxes, limited government, and greater economic freedom and prosperity.”

“I have very much enjoyed being speaker, working with each member to help them be successful representatives of their districts and advancing ideas that help all Tennesseans,” Harwell said in the statement.

However, Womick characterized Harwell’s tenure as something of a dictatorship. He said Harwell’s standing order for House Republicans essentially boils down to “do as you’re told, or we’re going to target you.”

Womick said things would be different if he was running the show. Under his leadership House members would get more autonomy — he wouldn’t attempt to limit or sabotage bills in committee, he said.

“The bottom line of this,” Womick said, is that under his leadership the House would be more democratic — all the individual elected representatives would have a stake in “running the show,” not just the GOP caucus bigwigs.

And Womick said he’d ensure all bills get a fair hearing if the sponsor wants it. “That’s Democrats and Republicans,” Womick said. “As a publicly elected servant, they have the right for their voices to be heard, not stifled by committee chairmen.” The situation lately, he said, has been that when bills are opposed by the governor or House leadership, they either never get a hearing or are held up until the end of session “when there’s no chance for them to even pass.”

Womick said he’d provide procedural direction to the body’s members “at their request,” but his guidance wouldn’t be “overhanded.”

He also wants to see a more independent legislative branch. Haslam has too much control over what does and doesn’t get through the General Assembly — such as with the fiscal note process, which has gotten “out of control,” said Womick. The last few years, he said that if Haslam “wants the de facto veto of a bill,” the administration “just slaps a fiscal note on it.”

Speaker Harwell has done nothing to stand up to the governor and prevent executive-branch interference in the lawmaking process, Womick said.

Additionally, state law requires a fiscal note be attached to a bill within 13 days of filing, something the Haslam administration routinely ignores, he said. “There are going to be honest, straightforward fiscal notes, and the governor’s going to have very little say-so when it comes to the time-frame,” said Womick. “We’re going to stick with what the law says.”

Harwell dismissed Womick’s allegations regarding the stifling of legislation. “I have always allowed a fair hearing on every single bill, and whether or not bills advance is the purview of the committee to which it is assigned. Those hearings are all done in public view,” Harwell said.

Corker Envisions Expansive Global Role for U.S.

Now that the GOP has won a solid majority in the U.S. Senate, Bob Corker appears the most likely candidate to chair the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee.

And the wealthy former Chattanooga mayor has big plans for the United States playing a bigger role around the globe, both with respect to intervening militarily and forking out American taxpayer-financed foreign aid.

Corker appeared recently with Sen. Lamar Alexander in Hamilton County as part of a tour of roundtable discussions with medical-aid workers on the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa, and what Tennessee ought to be doing to prepare for the possibility of disease outbreak here.

In Corker’s estimation, the best place to fight Ebola is over there — in hopes we don;t have to fight it over here. There’s “no question” that the country needs to “ramp up our efforts to get ahead of this there,” which is why it was important that the U.S. military provides assistance to the affected African nations, Corker said at the Chattanooga Memorial Hospital event.

The most appropriate means for dealing with Ebola is the U.S. military, which is “the entity in our country that best responds to things like this,” said Corker.

His remarks echoed his earlier praise of the Obama administration’s decision to send U.S. troops into African Ebola zones. “The U.S. has a vital role to play in leading the global response to defeat this deadly outbreak, and I could not be more proud of our men and women in uniform who are always willing to answer the call to protect U.S. interests both at home and abroad,” Corker said in a Sept. 30 statement.

Corker, two years into his second six-year term, has recently discussed his foreign policy agenda with Tennessee news outlets and civic organizations across the state.  He told the Tennessean editorial board there’s a solid case to be made for the United States to get more involved in the affairs of other countries around the world.

Foreign aid is a particularly underfunded aspect of the U.S. budget , he said, noting that he parts ways on the issue with members of his party who advocate a humbler role on the international stage. While Corker acknowledged that aid can be wasted by recipient nations, when used properly, American tax dollars can be spent abroad to help head off global problems before they become crises.

Earlier this year, in the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian border conflict, Corker co-sponsored legislation that would have imposed broad sanctions on Russian finance, energy and defense sectors, as well as increase U.S. military and non-military aid to Ukraine. Last year, he was  a leading voice in Congress encouraging the Obama to launch airstrikes against Syria.

Immigration is another issue on which Corker says many in his party, both nationally and in Tennessee, are out of step with sound policy judgment. Speaking to civic groups in Columbia, Tenn., Corker recently chastised other Republicans — including all seven of the state’s Republican members of Congress — for referring to the Senate’s 2013 immigration reform bill as “amnesty.”

Both of Tennessee’s senators voted in favor of that legislation. Corker has characterized the current system as more akin to “amnesty,” while he’s said the Senate bill would have helped address the problem of people residing here illegally.

GOP Supersizes Statehouse Supermajorities

If you liked the last two years of the Tennessee General Assembly, there’s a good chance you’ll love the next two. The opposite is probably also true.

Tennessee Republicans picked up two seats in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, thus adding cushion to their crushing margins of dominance in both chambers of the statehouse.

There are now more Republicans in the 33-seat Senate than there are Democrats in the 99-seat House. The GOP controls the Legislature by the blowout tallies of 28-5 in the Senate and 73-26 in the House.

And it could have been even worse. Two House Democrats won re-election on thin margins. Nashville Rep. Bo Mitchell edged out Republican Troy Brewer by 430 votes, and David Shepard of Dickson held on by 16 votes against Republican Michael Curcio.

Tuesday’s results mean two more years of relative impotence and frustration for the once mighty Tennessee Democratic Party, which has not only been hemorrhaging seats in the Legislature the last several years, it hasn’t fielded competitive candidates for statewide races since 2006, when Phil Bredesen won a landslide re-election as governor and Harold Ford lost in a tight U.S. Senate contest to Bob Corker.

Republican Mike Bell of Riceville, a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives who won a fresh four-year state Senate term in an uncontested race Tuesday, said witnessing the two parties’ reversal of fortunes over the years has been stunning.

“When I was elected to the House in 2006, I was in a minority. The Democrats had a 53-46 advantage, and so we rarely passed legislation because it was shot down,” said Bell, who last session chaired the Senate Government Operations Committee. “I’ve gone from serving in a minority when I first came up here, to serving in 28-5 Republican Senate, where there will be no more than one Democrat on every committee, except for possibly Finance, because it’s a larger committee, which will probably have two Democrats. When you look back at where Tennessee had been, one-party control for 140 years, it’s unbelievable where we’ve come over the last years.”

In the House, only a quarter of all the committee seats will be occupied by Democrats. “That is hard to imagine compared to when I was first elected,” said Bell.

Gerald McCormick, the House majority leader, said Wednesday that the election shows Tennesseans are generally satisfied with “the way we have governed our state the last four years.”

The Chattanooga Republican, who like Bell won re-election in an uncontested race, said there’s broad support among the state’s voters for Republican priorities, which he said are “to keep taxes low and regulations to a minimum, and to pay our bills on time and keep our bond ratings good, and balance the budget and make the government work efficiently.”

“I think we’ve tended to do that over the last four years, and they want us to continue to govern conservatively and responsibly,” said McCormick.

But just because huge majorities in both chambers share a party faith, Republicans won’t all be singing from the same hymnal.

McCormick said hotly-disputed issues await, particularly in the areas of education and how best to deal with Obamacare.

Gov. Bill Haslam, re-elected in a landslide against a field of largely unorganized and uncommitted challengers, has claimed that his administration is trying to work out a deal with the federal government to access funding for Medicaid expansion funding under the Affordable Care Act — an effort that has yet to bear fruit. Should any headway be made in negotiations between the Haslam and Obama administrations with respect to Medicaid expansion, McCormick said things could get “very contentious” within the GOP, a large contingent of which is committed to unyielding opposition to Obamacare.

McCormick added that the budget the Halsam administration presents could be a sore spot among Republicans, depending on how the revenue picture looks in a few months. “If the budget numbers don’t come in, then certainly any budget cuts would be tough, and they’re always contentious,” he said.

And then there’s Common Core. Whether Tennessee continues implementing and adhering to the controversial nationally focused math-and-English standards package is an issue McCormick expects will be “discussed early and often.”

“I think you’ll see the Legislature get involved in that very quickly in January,” said McCormick. “And we’ll grapple with that. But we’ve got to do it without abandoning standards, because you’ve got to have standards to make sure that students are learning and teachers are teaching.”

Williamson County Republican Glen Casada, last session’s House GOP caucus chairman, expects “you’ll see a movement amongst House members to overturn it outright — just to delete the Common Core standards, and let it go the way of No Child Left Behind and other failed programs.”

Then there’s the matter of the governor himself. Haslam’s crushing defeat of all comers in the election paints a deceiving portrait of widespread popularity. In fact, the governor and his most loyal political allies, like Speaker Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, are regarded suspiciously — and even with outright hostility — by a not-so-insignificant block of Tea-Party-friendly lawmakers in both chambers.

McCormick said he expects the House GOP caucus leadership to remain unchanged from last session. “I don’t anticipate any changes, but of course that’s up to the entire caucus membership,” he said.

He also said it is difficult to predict how members of the caucus are going to react to various issues as they unfold. “Usually, it’s something you don’t expect that becomes contentious, so we’ll just have to be ready for whatever it is.”

2014 Tennessee General Election Results

Governor

  • Republican: Bill Haslam, incumbent         70%
  • Democrat: Charles V. “Charlie” Brown      23%
  • Constitution: Shaun Crowell                         2%
  • Green: Isa Infante                                           1%
  • Independent: John Jay Hooker                   2%

U.S. Senate

  • Republican: Lamar Alexander, incumbent  62%
  • Democrat: Gordon Ball                                    32%
  • Constitution: Joe Wilmouth                              3%
  • Green: Martin Pleasant                                       1%

U.S. House

District 1

  • Republican: Phil Roe, incumbent                  83%
  • Green: Bob Smith                                                7%
  • Independent: Michael Salyer                            3%
  • Independent: Robert Franklin                          7%

District 2

  • Republican: John “Jimmy” Duncan, Jr., incumbent       72%
  • Democrat: Bob Scott                                                               23%
  • Green: Norris Dryer                                                                  2%
  • Independent: Casey Gouge                                                     3%

District 3

  • Republican: Chuck Fleischmann, incumbent          62%
  • Democrat: Mary Headrick                                            35%
  • Independent: Cassandra Mitchell                                3%

District 4

  • Republican: Scott Desjarlais, incumbent                  58%
  • Democrat: Lenda Sherrell                                             35%
  • Independent:  Robert Doggart                                        6%

District 5

  • Republican: Bob Ries                                                       36%
  • Democrat: Jim Cooper, incumbent                               62%
  • Independent: Paul Deakin                                                  2%

District 6

  • Republican: Diane Black, incumbent                            71%
  • Democrat: Amos Powers                                                  23%
  • Independent: Mike Winton                                                6%

District 7

  • Republican: Marsha Blackburn, incumbent                  70%
  • Democrat: Dan Cramer                                                      27%
  • Independent: Lenny Ladner                                                3%

District 8

  • Republican: Stephen Fincher, incumbent                       71%
  • Democrat: Wes Bradley                                                       25%
  • Constitution: Mark Rawles                                                    3%
  • Independent: James Hart                                                      2%

District 9

  • Republican: Charlotte Bergmann                                      23%
  • Democrat: Steve Cohen, incumbent                                  75%

Ballot Measures

Constitutional Amendment 1: An amendment to grant the legislature greater power over regulating abortions in Tennessee.

  • Yes   53%
  • No    47%

Constitutional Amendment 2: An amendment to constitutionally legitimize gubernatorial appointment of Supreme Court and appellate  judges — removes right of people to vote for judges in direct elections.

  • Yes   61%
  • No   39%

Constitutional Amendment 3: An amendment to ban the levying of an income tax in Tennessee.

  • Yes    66%
  • No    34%

Constitutional Amendment 4: An amendment to expand the groups who can hold lotteries and raffles to veterans groups. 

  • Yes    76%
  • No     24%

Tennessee Senate

District 7

  • Republican: Richard Briggs, Knoxville    65%
  • Democrat: Cheri Siler, Knoxville               35%

District 15 (No incumbent — Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, retired)

  • Republican: State Rep. Paul Bailey, Sparta             73%
  • Democrat: Betty Vaudt, Cookeville                           22%
  • Independent: William L. Draper, Gainesboro           4%

District 19

  • Republican: Sterlina Inez Brady, Nashville                                     15%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Thelma M. Harper, Whites Creek         75%
  • Independent: George Thomas, Nashville                                           9%

 

District 21 (No incumbent — Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, retired)

  • Republican: Diana Cuellar, Nashville            33%
  • Democrat: Jeff Yarbro, Nashville                    67%

District 23

  • Republican: Jack Johnson, Franklin               83%
  • Green: Amy H. Balderrama, Franklin             17%

District 25

  • Republican: Kerry Roberts (former state senator), Springfield     70%
  • Democrat: Tony Gross, Kingston Springs                                            33%

District 27 (No incumbent — Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, retired)

  • Republican: Ed Jackson, Jackson            60%
  • Democrat: Randy Lamb, Jackson             35%
  • Constitution: Tim York, Jackson                3%
  • Independent: James A. Baxter, Jackson   2%

District 29

  • Republican: James R. “Jim” Finney, Memphis     18%
  • Democrat: Lee Harris, Memphis                               82%

District 30 (No incumbent — Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, retired)

  • Republican: George Flynn, Memphis                      27%
  • Democrat: Sara Kyle, Memphis                                 70%
  • Independent: David Vinciarelli                                    3%

Tennessee House of Representatives

District 2

  • Republican: Bud Hulsey, Kingsport                      84%
  • Libertarian: J.R. Enfield, Kingsport                      16%

District 4 (No Incumbent — Kent Williams, I-Elizabethton, retiring) 

  • Republican: John B. Holsclaw, Jr., Johnson City     82%
  • Democrat: Rob Martin, Erwin                                       18%

District 5

  • Republican (Incumbent): David B. Hawk, Greeneville          75%
  • Independent: Kermit E. Steck, Greeneville                               25%

District 11

  • Republican (Incumbent): Jeremy Faison, Newport                 68%
  • Democrat: Marjorie J. Ramsey, Newport                                   19%
  • Independent: Roland A. Dykes III, Newport                             13%

District 13 

  • Republican: Eddie Smith, Knoxville                                            51%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Gloria Johnson, Knoxville                 49%

District 15

  • Democrat (Incumbent): Joseph “Joe” Armstrong, Knoxville         76%
  • Independent: Pete Drew, Knoxville                                                      24%

District 20

  • Republican (Incumbent): Bob Ramsey, Maryville                             77%
  • Democrat: John Ross Conley, Friendsville                                           23%

District 21

  • Republican (Incumbent): Jimmy Matlock, Lenoir City                     79%
  • Democrat: Pamela O. Weston, Sweetwater                                           21%

District 25

  • Republican (Incumbent): Cameron Sexton, Crossville                      77%
  • Democrat: Judy Barnett, Crossville                                                        23%

District 27 (No incumbent — Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, retired)

  • Republican: Patsy Hazlewood, Signal Mountain                                  75%
  • Democrat: Eric McRoy, Chattanooga                                                      25%

District 32

  • Republican (Incumbent): Kent Calfee, Kingston                                   77%
  • Democrat: Joe Kneiser, Harriman                                                            23%

District 36

  • Republican (Incumbent): Dennis Powers, Jacksboro                           76%
  • Democrat: James Virgil Kidwell, Lafollette                                             24%

District 39

  • Republican (Incumbent): David Alexander, Winchester                      68%
  • Democrat: Matthew Huffer, Normandy                                                    32%

District 40

  • Republican (Incumbent): Terri Lynn Weaver, Lancaster                      67%
  • Democrat: Sarah Marie Smith, Carthage                                                   33%

District 42

  • Republican (Incumbent): Ryan Williams, Cookeville                             72%
  • Democrat: Michael R. Walsh, Cookeville                                                   28%

District 43 (No incumbent — Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, elected to state Senate Dist. 17)

  • Republican: Robert F. Dunham, Sparta                                   48%
  • Democrat: Kevin Dunlap, Rock Island                                     49%
  • Independent: Edward Leon Buck, Sparta                                   3%

District 45

  • Republican (Incumbent): Courtney Rogers, Goodlettsville           75%
  • Democrat: Steven D. Puckett Jr., Hendersonville                            25%

District 46

  • Republican (Incumbent): Mark Pody, Lebanon                                67%
  • Democrat: Candace Reed, Lebanon                                                      33%

District 48 (No incumbent — Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, ran for U.S. Senate)

  • Republican: Bryan Terry, Murfreesboro                                         67%
  • Democrat: William Bill Campbell, Murfreesboro                          33%

District 49

  • Republican (Incumbent): Mike Sparks, Smyrna                            63%
  • Democrat: Mike Williams, Smyrna                                                    37%

District 50

  • Republican: Troy Brewer, Nashville                                                    49%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Bo Mitchell, Nashville                                 51%

District 51 (No incumbent — Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, retired)

  • Republican: Brian L. Mason, Nashville                                               28%
  • Democrat: Bill Beck, Nashville                                                              72%

District 53

  • Republican: John Wang, Nashville                                                        43%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Jason Powell, Nashville                                53%
  • Independent: Tonya Miller, Nashville                                                      4%

District 54

  • Democrat: Brenda Gilmore, Nashville                                                  91%
  • Green: Martin Holsinger, Nashville                                                         9%

District 56

  • Republican (Incumbent): Beth Harwell, Nashville                             63%
  • Democrat: Chris Moth, Green Hills                                                        37%

District 57

  • Republican (Incumbent): Susan Lynn, Mt. Juliet                                77%
  • Democrat: Jesse McLevain, Mt. Juliet                                                    23%

District 60

  • Republican: Jim Gotto, Hermitage, former state representative       47%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Darren Jernigan, Old Hickory                       53%

District 64

  • Republican (Incumbent): Sheila Butt, Columbia                                   75%
  • Independent: James Gray, Columbia                                                        25%

District 65

  • Republican (Incumbent): Jeremy Durham, Franklin                             73%
  • Democrat: William S. Peach, Franklin                                                       27%

District 67

  • Democrat (Incumbent): Joe Pitts, Clarksville                                           70%
  • Constitution: Mike Warner, Clarksville                                                      30%

District 69

  • Republican: Michael G. Curcio, Dickson                                49.94%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): David Shepard, Dickson                  50.06%

District 73

  • Republican (Incumbent): Jimmy Eldridge, Jackson          77%
  • Democrat: Shelia L. Godwin, Oakfield                                   23%

District 74

  • Republican: Jay D. Reedy, Erin                                                     52%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): John C. Tidwell, New Johnsonville   48%

District 75

  • Republican (Incumbent): Tim Wirgau, Buchanan                  62%
  • Democrat: Randy Patton, Camden                                              33%
  • Independent: James L. Hart, Buchanan                                       5%

District 76

  • Republican (Incumbent): Andy Holt, Dresden                        70%
  • Democrat: Joyce Washington, Martin                                        30%

District 78

  • Republican (Incumbent): Mary Littleton, Dickson          71%
  • Democrat: Jane R. Crisp, Pegram                                        29%

District 79

  • Republican (Incumbent): Curtis Halford, Dyer      77%
  • Democrat: Bobby G. Barnett, Humboldt                   23%

District 86

  • Republican: George T. Edwards III, Millington             29%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Barbara Cooper, Memphis      71%

District 88

  • Republican: Harry Barber, Bartlett                                30%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Larry J. Miller, Memphis      70%

District 91

  • Republican: Samuel Watkins, Memphis                                      18%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): Raumesh A. Akbari, Memphis            82%

District 92

  • Republican (Incumbent): Billy Spivey, Lewisburg               66%
  • Democrat: Vicki C. Cain, Lewisburg                                         34%

District 93

  • Republican: Colonel Gene Billingsley, Memphis                     26%
  • Democrat (Incumbent): G.A. Hardaway Sr., Memphis           74%

District 96

  • Republican (Incumbent): Steve McManus, Cordova         62%
  • Democrat: Hilman D. Thompson, Cordova                          38%

Alexander Wins New Senate Term in Landslide

Lamar Alexander, a two-term incumbent and former Volunteer State governor, has cruised into a third term as Tennessee’s senior U.S. Senator.

And with the GOP taking over the U.S. Senate, the Maryville Republican will likely be the chairman of an influential Senate committee starting in 2015.

Alexander took victory with about 62 percent of the vote, according to unofficial Tennessee election results late Tuesday. His Democratic opponent, Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball, finished with 32 percent. Of the 10 minor party candidates, the next closest to Ball was Constitution Party candidate Joe Wilmoth, with 2.6 percent of the vote.

In the weeks running up the election, polls consistently showed Alexander with a double-digit lead over his opponent — including even a poll commissioned by Ball. But this was still likely Alexander’s most expensive campaign, with the Tennessean reporting that the long-time politician pumped $8 million into his re-election effort, almost twice the cost for his seat six years ago.

“I ran for re-election to be part of a new majority in the Senate that will fix our broken system, get the right things done, and begin to move our country in a new direction,” Alexander said in his victory speech. “I’ll do this in a way Tennesseans know well—to work with others to get results. Tennesseans want a senator who knows how to get things done, not just make a speech.”

Alexander won the GOP Primary in August with the support of less than half the Republican Party, beating Tea Party-backed challenger state Rep. Joe Carr.

After squeezing out a plurality win in the primary, Alexander came out of the gate attacking Ball, who portrayed himself a conservative Democrat. Alexander and the Tennessee Republican Party portrayed Ball as “another vote for Obama.”

Ball, looking for support from disgruntled Tea Party Republicans, targeted Alexander’s positions on immigration, term limits and Common Core. Ball also accused the incumbent of being more accommodating to the Obama administration the he likes to let on.

Alexander said in his speech after winning that he’d received a call of congratulations from Ball earlier Tuesday night. Alexander said Ball ran “a strong campaign.”

The Ball Campaign did not immediately release a concession statement late Tuesday night.

Alexander — who at a final press conference prior to election day said he wasn’t sure if 2014 would be his last race or not — is in line to chair the powerful Health Education Labor and Pensions committee now that Republicans appear to have won the six seats they needed to control of the U.S. Senate. He would also be in line to chair the appropriations committee on energy that oversees “funding for facilities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” according to a press release.

An Alexander spokesman told TNReport in October that “Sen. Alexander wants to focus most immediately on three issues: repairing the damage done by Obamacare, fixing the No Child Left Behind law, which has been overdue for reauthorization since 2008, and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.”

Time Served in U.S. Senate has Tempered Lamar Alexander’s Views on Term Limits

Remember when Lamar Alexander was an avid supporter of congressional term limits?

Neither, it seems, does he.

The 12-year incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, now running for his third consecutive six-year term as a federal lawmaker, used to talk a lot about the need for a mandatory cap on how long politicians in Congress in could spend in office.

Term limits were, in fact, one of the most urgent reforms needed to make Washington, D.C. more accountable to the citizenry, Alexander postulated back in the 1990s.

Alexander’s past advocacy for limiting lawmakers’ tenure has led this election year to accusations of hypocrisy from his opponents.

Gordon Ball, the Democratic candidate for Senate, has hit him on it.  As did Joe Carr, Alexander’s GOP primary foe who lost out in August. Both accused the incumbent of reneging on an earlier-held principle that was once key to his philosophy on governing. They called him out for seeking a third term despite the “serve two terms and get out” credo of yesteryear he famously expressed in Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Book.

When the matter has come up in his presence, Alexander’s retort has been to suggest that the Little Plaid Book “advice” was geared more toward those seeking executive office. Alexander says he followed the rule when he served as governor from 1979-1987.

“I decided to run for a third term so that I could be a part of a Republican majority and move our country in a more conservative direction,” Alexander said during a press conference in Chattanooga last week. No mention was made of his current stance on congressional term limits, which a January 2013 Gallup poll indicated is favored by 75 percent of Americans.  Alexander also doesn’t appear to have signed on to term-limits resolution filed in 2013 by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and 11 other Republicans. And he in fact voted against an unsuccessful 2012 call to alter the U.S. Constitution to enact congressional term limits, which his fellow Republican Tennessee senator, Bob Corker, supported.

In mid-October, at the only joint Ball-Alexander debate appearance of the campaign, Ball called the incumbent out on the issue. “I believe in term limits. If Sen. Alexander had believed in term limits, he would have introduced a bill, and we might have term limits by now,” Ball said.

Corker, on the other hand doesn’t seem to mind Alexander’s change of heart. He heaped praise on Alexander for not missing “a single day or a single hour in using opportunities to make our country stronger.”

“I’m glad he’s going to be back to serve,” Corker said.

The Presidential Primary Years

Advancing term limits was in fact a central platform plank of Lamar Alexander’s presidential campaigns in the waning years of the 20th Century, when he would advertise himself as the man best suited to “lead the Republican revolution into the next century.” His rallying cry for handling over-active, self-important politicians in Washington was to “Cut their pay and send them home!”

Alexander promised he “would lead the national call for term limits and an end to the million dollar pensions that reward members of Congress for making politics a lifetime career.”

“We need a Congress that expects less from Washington and more from us,” Alexander argued. “Therefore I favor term limits. I favor an end to the million-dollar Congressional pensions. And I would cut the pay of Congress and send them home for half a year.”

He supported a constitutional amendment to limit service in the U.S. Senate to 12 years and six years in the House. And he had little patience for intra-party rivals like Kansas Republican Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, who as U.S. Senate majority leader Alexander sharply criticized for coming up with “convenient excuses to do nothing” about instituting term limits for federal lawmakers.

“Any attempt to sweep term limits under the congressional rug is a dangerous and disingenuous strategy,” said Alexander in October 1995.

At about the same time, Alexander also testified before Congress on the term limits issue. He divulged that during his second term as Tennessee’s governor, from 1983-1987, he was “a little more concerned about whether at the end of eight years I would have been able to accomplish something useful for my state rather than to worry about whether what I was trying to accomplish might have helped me get reelected yet to a third term.”

In early 1996 the New York Times took note of Alexander’s increasing frustration with the lack of Republican leadership focus on term limits, which had been a critical plank in the “Contract With America” two years prior. In a campaign radio spot Alexander lamented, “You can listen to these candidates from Washington all day long and you’ll never hear the words ‘term limits.’”

He continued his term-limits advocacy after his 1996 primary loss and leading into his unsuccessful 2000 run. Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Book was published in 1998.

Two 4-Year Terms As Governor — A TN First

Just before this year’s August primary, Alexander told TNReport that serving two terms and leaving office is “exactly what I did as governor — I wrote the book in the 1990s.” He echoed those comments in the defense given for his third-term ambitions at the Oct. 16 Tennessee Farm Bureau candidate’s forum.

The truth of the matter is that Lamar Alexander was actually the first governor in the history of the Volunteer State to lead the state for eight consecutive years. And he was the first governor since the 1950s to serve more than a four-year stint at a time.

In 1953, Tennessee voters ratified a constitutional amendment that changed the consecutive length of time a person could hold the office of governor from three successive two-year terms to a single four-year term. But in a March 1978 special election, the state’s voters OK’d a new constitutional amendment that allowed for two consecutive terms, thus lengthening a governor’s potential time in office to eight years.

Alexander, who was sworn in as the state’s chief executive three days prior to his scheduled inauguration because of a scandal surrounding the sale of pardons to prisoners by outgoing Democratic Governor Ray Blanton, took office as Tennessee’s governor in January 1979. He was re-elected in 1982. He left the chief executive’s office as mandated by the Tennessee Constitution in 1987.

Alexander later served as president of the University of Tennessee from 1988-1991, and as George H.W. Bush’s U.S. Secretary of Education from 1991-1993.

Following his two unsuccessful attempts to win the Republican nod for the White House, in 1996 and 2000, Alexander declared that he was done with electoral politics. According to an excerpt from the book, Midterm Madness: The Elections of 2002, when Alexander withdrew from the 2000 presidential race after a poor showing at the Iowa Straw Poll in August 1999, he declared it was his “last campaign for public office.”

However, Alexander stepped foot onto the campaign trail in 2002 following the Republican Fred Thompson’s announcement he was stepping down from the U.S. Senate. Alexander said in 2002 he had decided he wanted to serve the nation again after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and with Thompson’s retirement a “position would be opening that I could be effective at.”

Alexander won election to the U.S. Senate in 2002, and was re-elected in 2008.

Alexander Defends Immigration Stance

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been criticized this campaign season for voting in favor of a bill referred to by conservatives as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

But the two-term incumbent has defended his vote in favor of the legislation, and said that he’d in fact “voted to end amnesty” for undocumented workers.

Last summer, GOP primary candidate Joe Carr issued a press release that took Sen. Alexander to task on the issue. The Carr press release noted that all seven Republican members of the state’s U.S. House delegation have released statements in opposition to the so-called “amnesty” bill, which was “was written by Sen. Chuck Schumer, endorsed by Nancy Pelosi and backed by La Raza and the Chamber of Commerce.”

Alexander’s position on S. 744 was named by Carr as one of the chief reasons he didn’t feel comfortable giving his former primary opponent an endorsement in the November general election.

Alexander has also sparred over the issue with his Democratic opponent, Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball.

In mid-September, Ball, promoting himself as a moderate Democrat and seeking the support of Alexander’s critics from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, accused the Maryville Republican of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The topic came up again when the two candidates met in their only joint appearance of the election season, at the Oct. 16 Tennessee Farm Bureau Candidates Forum. The Senator defended the legislation he voted for, which he said was initially recommended to him by the TN Farm Bureau.

Alexander also pointed out that while the legislation he supported included penalties for those here illegally and didn’t contain a pathway to citizenship, the policy that Ball voices support for on his campaign website has no penalties for immigrants coming into the country without federal government permission and includes such a pathway.

According to Ball’s website, he supports “common sense immigration reform” that would uphold border security and existing labor laws, as well as giving undocumented immigrants a “path to citizenship” that would “require them to pay taxes and be registered.”

Alexander said at the candidates’ forum earlier this month, “I voted to end amnesty,” which he accused Ball of supporting.

“The definition of amnesty is a path to citizenship, with no penalty,” Alexander said.

Ball later questioned Alexander’s credibility on any immigration issues, noting in an email to TNReport that the incumbent senator skipped a recent vote on a border funding.

“I’ve never gotten to vote for any legislation and he’s had 12 years. He didn’t even show up,” Ball said in an e-mail.

In late July, Senate Republicans, led by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, voted to kill the border funding bill, which they said would not prevent Pres. Barack Obama from granting temporary amnesty and work permits for illegal immigrants. Although Alexander was not present for the vote, the bill was successfully defeated when Senate Democrats couldn’t muster enough votes waive a point of order raised by Sessions.

Alexander Not Planning to Press ‘Grand Swap’ if Re-Elected

Last week Sen. Lamar Alexander said that if he’s re-elected he’ll once again start pushing legislation to grant the states more control over education policy and public-school management decisions.

If he wins his Senate race, and Republicans gain control of the United States Senate, the two-term incumbent will likely helm the upper chamber’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Alexander, who himself served as U.S. Department of Education secretary in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, made the announcement after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released information about a review of Common Core that his administration is launching.

Returning control over education to the states has long been an issue that Sen. Alexander advocates. Going back at least three decades to his time as the Volunteer State’s governor, Alexander has said he favors a “Grand Swap,” in which the states have full control of education and the federal government assumes all the responsibilities for administrating Medicaid.

In a 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Alexander wrote that he first proposed the “Grand Swap” to President Reagan, though it ultimately went nowhere.

In a joint session of the General Assembly in January 2013, shortly after announcing his decision to run for a third term in the U.S. Senate, Alexander pitched several ideas for dealing with unfunded federal mandates that he said are soaking up money that states could use for other pressing needs, like education.

Alexander promised the Tennessee Legislature he would introduce legislation in Congress “to enact the Grand Swap I proposed to President Reagan in the 1980s.” He described the legislation in straightforward terms: “The federal government (would) take all of Medicaid, and the states take an equal amount of other programs more appropriately funded and managed at home, such as education and such as job training.”

At the time, the Maryville Republican acknowledged to reporters after his speech that it would be a long slog uphill to get legislation like that through the Democratic Party-led Senate. But he also said the chances of its being taken seriously were “improved by the fact that there’s a lot of attention on how the Medicaid program is bankrupting the states.”

“Medicaid is going to ruin the states,” Alexander said to reporters. The former University of Tennessee president added that the high cost of Medicaid to the states was the “main reason” for rising tuition prices. “It’s squeezing the life out of our colleges and universities in Tennessee.”

But while Alexander indeed appears to be pressing for more state control on education, he has yet to carry through on his pledge to try and release the states from responsibility for handling Medicaid. Since he made the remarks to state lawmakers, he’s filed no “Grand Swap” legislation.

A spokesman for Alexander, Brian Reisinger, said the “Grand Swap” isn’t on his to-do list, though it “continues to represent his ideal vision.”

“If Republicans take over the majority in the Senate, Sen. Alexander wants to focus most immediately on three issues: repairing the damage done by Obamacare, fixing the No Child Left Behind law, which has been overdue for reauthorization since 2008, and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act,” wrote Reisinger in an e-mail.

The healthcare reform plan that seems most likely to come out of a GOP-led Senate, developed by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Richard Burr of North Carolina, would keep some of the GOP-preferred aspects of Obamacare — such as allowing children to stay on their parents insurance plan through 26 — but would change or completely scrap several others.

One of the biggest changes would be to alter federal Medicaid funding by essentially giving the states a set amount of block-grant money to use in the most cost-effective ways to provide services to the state’s enrollees. The amount of money a state receives would be determined by the number enrolled in Medicaid.

Reisinger indicated that Alexander sees no conflict between the senator’s idea to put all Medicaid decisions and costs in the hands of Washington D.C., and the Republican plan to give the states a set amount of money and full discretion of policy decisions.

“As a firm believer in the Tenth Amendment, Sen. Alexander believes if the federal government isn’t going to manage and pay for its own Medicaid program, states should have as much flexibility within Medicaid as possible,” Resinger wrote.

Alexander: D.C. Shouldn’t Dictate States’ Pot Policies

Every candidate competing for Tennessee’s U.S. Senate seat appears to favor less federal involvement in state-level marijuana laws — even the Republican incumbent, Lamar Alexander.

“Sen. Alexander believes that Washington, D.C. should not be telling states what to do about the decriminalization of marijuana,” said an Alexander Campaign spokesman in an e-mailed statement.

That statement was issued following news reports about the discussion on federal marijuana policy that occurred at a Nashville debate. Alexander didn’t attend the debate because of prior obligations, his campaign said.

Gordon Ball, the Democratic candidate, and the several minor-party candidates who participated in the debate — including representatives of the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties, as well as a self-styled “Tea Party” candidate — all said the federal government should either legalize marijuana, or let the states decide how to handle cannabis for themselves.

The Alexander campaign statement also explained the two-term senator’s personal view that “while there may be some valid medicinal uses for cannabis, he is concerned about the potential abuse and widespread use of drugs for recreational purposes and is carefully watching the de-criminalization process in the states of Colorado and Washington.”

TNReport requested clarification from the Alexander campaign as to whether he supports Congress rolling back federal marijuana prohibitions in order to give states breathing room to set their own policies. The campaign didn’t respond.

Earlier in 2014, Alexander signed on to a piece of legislation that would allow Congress to file a lawsuit against the president, or any other government official, who is found to have failed to “faithfully execute” all federal laws.

As governor in 1984, Alexander signed a law to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. The law was repealed in 1992 when the federal government stopped supplying marijuana for medicinal purposes

Medical marijuana has been legalized in more than 20 states, as well as in the District of Columbia. Additionally, it’s been legalized for recreational use in Washington and Colorado. Several more states, such as California, Oregon, Maine and Alaska, could be considering legalization in the next few years.

According to 2011 FBI numbers, nearly 650,000 people were arrested that year for marijuana possession.

In Tennessee, the most recent figures from the state Department of Correction show that during the 2012-2013 fiscal year 6,169 people were incarcerated for drug crimes. However, data about incarcerations for specific drug subcategories, such as marijuana or methamphetamine, is not readily available from the state. TDOC reports all drugs in a larger category based on the standards of the National Incident-Based Reporting System, said TDOC Spokeswoman Neysa Taylor in an e-mail.

According to government data from the City of Denver, a year to year comparison from Jan.-Sep. 2013 to Jan.-Sep. 2014 shows that since marijuana was legalized, violent and property crimes have dropped 7.9 percent. The only sharp increase in crime came in the “disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace” category, which saw an increase of more than 200 percent.

Legal pot sales in Washington State didn’t begin until July of this year.