- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander comes to the Senate vowing to support President Bush's agenda on taxes and education while maintaining an independent streak on other issues such as Social Security.
Mr. Alexander will enter his new job with substantial political experience. He has been a two-term governor, a Cabinet secretary and a two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, running in 1999 against then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
He realizes that his new job is different from previous roles, Mr. Alexander said, and that in some ways he is "going from being the choir director to a member of the choir" with the possibility of "being a soloist now and then."
But, he said, the Senate is a good place for someone with varied experiences and he feels privileged to be there.
Although the war on terrorism and possible military action against Iraq dominate the agenda on Capitol Hill these days, Mr. Alexander said he looks forward to working with Mr. Bush on such domestic issues as education, energy, the environment and health care.
"I think my greatest contribution can be at home, in the domestic areas," Mr. Alexander said.
As a former secretary of education in the first Bush administration, education will be high on his list of priorities. He will push for "more local control and more choices for parents" both strong Republican beliefs.
Democrats have railed against Republicans for not providing enough money for education, especially in light of the new testing requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act, which went into effect last year. But "most of the debate about education isn't about money; it's about how the money is spent," Mr. Alexander said.
Both the Higher Education Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act will come up for congressional reauthorization, and Mr. Alexander will be involved in those efforts. He also will push a bill that would award scholarships to low-income and middle-income children so that they could attend the school of their parents' choice.
Mr. Alexander said he would vote to make the president's tax cut permanent and anticipates that Mr. Bush will win Senate confirmation of his judicial nominees.
He would like to see a prescription-drug benefit "that seniors can afford and the country can afford," but said he is too new to predict whether Congress will pass one this year.
Mr. Alexander has an independent streak, however, and may differ with the administration on some issues.
He is skeptical about allowing workers to invest part of their Social Security money in private accounts. He said he would prefer a pilot program outside the trust fund that gives younger people more control over retirement funds. He is willing to consider other proposals.
And although Mr. Alexander said he does not support human cloning, he will not yet say whether he will support so-called therapeutic cloning using human cloning for purposes of medical research. The president strongly supports a House-passed bill that would ban cloning human embryos for any purpose, including medical research.
Mr. Alexander is a well-known figure in his home state of Tennessee, dating to a walk across the state in his now-trademark red-and-black plaid shirt during his gubernatorial campaign in 1978. He gained nationwide recognition when he unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and again in 2000.
He decided to try for a Senate seat in 2002 when the incumbent Republican, Sen. Fred Thompson, announced he would not seek another term.
Mr. Alexander raised $5.74 million and spent $3.34 million in his campaign against his Democratic opponent, Rep. Bob Clement, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which used data from the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Alexander contributed $602,000 of his own wealth, the center said.
Mr. Alexander has some experience in the Senate, where he worked as a legislative aide in the late 1960s to then-Sen. Howard Baker, Tennessee Republican.
In later years, interspersed with his political career, he served as president of the University of Tennessee, co-director of Empower America and visiting professor at Harvard University School of Government. He is chairman of Co-nect Inc., a Boston-based education company.

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