NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As Lamar Alexander prepares to retire from more than 40 years of public service, he finds himself in an unusual position: urging a president from his own party to graciously concede the election to his Democratic opponent. Sen. Alexander joined a handful of other Republican leaders Monday by issuing a statement, asking the White House for a peaceful transition. In part, Alexander wrote, “my hope is that President Trump will take pride in his considerable accomplishments, put the country first and have a prompt and orderly transition to help the new administration succeed."
I recently sat down with Sen. Alexander at Curb Records in Nashville, to discuss his long career representing Tennessee. It began in 1978 when Alexander famously walked more than 1,000 miles across Tennessee to make his case to be governor. He served two terms, and later took the helm at the University of Tennessee, and served as President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Education. He’s been in the Senate since 2002.
So what’s next?
"Well, I'm gonna turn the page, and go to the next chapter and see what it's like. You know I heard someone say about a basketball player one time if he quit trying so hard and let the game come to him he'd be a better basketball player so maybe I'll quit trying so hard and let life come to me and see what it's like," Alexander said.
As he prepares for retirement, Alexander says he’s not only reflecting on his three terms in the Senate.
“I've thought back further than that. I've thought back 40 years, to the time I became governor, and I think particularly about how Tennessee has changed there. For example, we had no auto industry. Now, the General Motors plant is the largest GM plant in the world, and Nissan is the biggest one in North America, and a third of our manufacturing jobs are auto jobs. So I see us with better roads, better schools, higher incomes, more sense of pride over the last 40 years,” he said.
Alexander says he has a sense of pride over his work in Washington, building a reputation as a bipartisan statesman who was willing to work across the aisle. But you may be surprised to hear how he describes it.
"In the Senate, you're more or less a parade organizer. You're working with, you know, you're picking the music and picking the route and recruiting the marchers and heading in a direction. But the parades I've liked the best are the songwriters' bill, which has meant that lots of songwriters are getting paid now for their work. The Great American Outdoors Act, people have been trying to pass that for 50 years literally to help our parks,” he said.
Despite his accomplishments, Alexander has faced harsh criticism from Democrats for not speaking out more against some of President Trump's perceived gaffes and mistakes these past four years, especially his tweets. Alexander says that’s not his responsibility.
"My job is not really to give a running commentary on President Obama's liberal policy or President Trump's behavior. My job is to help the president to succeed where I can, and to vote against him when I have to," Alexander said.
Alexander says he and his wife Honey will move back to East Tennessee. He may write a book, and he'll definitely get back to playing the piano. His advice for his successor, Bill Hagerty?
"My advice is this: it's hard to get here, in the United States Senate. It's hard to stay here. And while you're here you might as well try to accomplish something good for the country," Alexander said.