The other night I pulled up at a stoplight next to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, perched behind the wheel of his Toyota Prius hybrid. In Washington, a senator driving him or herself is a unique enough sight, but a conservative southern Republican in a “green” vehicle? [See who donated the most to Alexander.]
Believe it or not, Alexander, the senior senator from Tennessee, is putting his money (and according to the Roll Call annual lawmaker net worth survey, Alexander isn’t driving a Prius to save on gas) where his mouth is when it comes to energy policy.
Two weeks ago, prompted by the oil spill in the Gulf, Alexander released a ten-point plan for oil spill recovery and strengthening America’s energy infrastructure. Liberal environmentalists decried the plan as too reliant on nuclear energy and too vague on some form of cap and trade system.
Whether one agrees with Alexander’s energy plan or not, credit the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference for developing substantive policy messages for his party. With the Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue doing their best to brand the GOP as the “party of no,” Alexander is a dreadful impediment to that quest--a conservative Republican who doesn’t mind going toe to toe in a heated policy debate.
Alexander made a name for himself first as governor of Tennessee then as President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of education. Alexander barnstormed the country (twice) unsuccessfully in his now infamous plaid shirt while campaigning for the GOP presidential nod.
Alexander then ran for and won the open seat of retiring Sen. Fred Thompson. Unlike other former executives and cabinet secretaries, Alexander appears to have transitioned nicely to the U.S. Senate. He continues to broaden his policy portfolio. He largely led the Republican dialogue at the now infamous Blair House summit, where he more than held his own with top Democratic healthcare policy experts.
Alexander has ruled out any further presidential bids, but as the GOP seeks to demonstrate competent, commonsense solutions to serious problems, Alexander may be emerging as the Senate’s man for the job. He may lack the polished looks of a Romney or the star power of a Palin, but his under-the-radar policy efforts could prove to be the winning prescription if the Grand Old Party is to reclaim the Senate in one of the next two election cycles.
Just don’t make fun if you see him in his Prius--even though it does make for an interesting spectacle.