Faculty Profile: Lamar Alexander

Lamar AlexanderOffice of Senator Alexander
Biography

In 2016, the nation’s governors created the James Madison Award to recognize members of Congress who support federalism and the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing states’ rights. The governors named Sen. Lamar Alexander as the first-ever recipient of the award for his work to fix No Child Left Behind. The new education law Alexander worked to pass was signed by the president in December 2015. The Wall Street Journal called it “the largest devolution of federal power to the states in a quarter century.”

In 2013, the National Conference of State Legislatures gave Sen. Alexander and three other senators its “Restoring the Balance” Award for protecting states’ rights, the first time in 10 years the organization gave this award to U.S. senators.

Alexander, a seventh-generation Tennessean born and raised in Maryville, was twice elected governor of Tennessee. He has always believed that in most cases the best decisions are made by those closest to the people. 

Today, Alexander chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Alexander is also chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, where he works to boost funding for basic energy research and invest in our inland waterways and harbors.

Alexander was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and has been re-elected twice. His Republican colleagues elected him three times to be chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. 

He has previously served as president of the University of Tennessee and as U.S. Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush.

He is a classical and country pianist and the author of seven books.

Lamar Alexander and his wife Honey have four children and nine grandchildren and a dog named Rufus. 

Highlights:

  • Born July 3, 1940, Maryville, Tennessee; seventh generation East Tennessean; father was an elementary school principal and mother was a pre-school teacher;

  • Only Tennessean ever popularly elected both Governor and U.S. Senator;

  • He has served twenty six years as either governor or senator, longer than any other Tennessean who has held both jobs;

  • He has won six statewide Republican primaries, twice as many as any other Republican;

  • In his 1978 campaign for governor, walked 1022 miles across Tennessee spending the night with 73 families; on January 17, 1979, Democrat legislative leaders swore him in three days early because of scandals surrounding incumbent governor;
  • As Governor (1979-1987)  helped bring the auto industry to Tennessee, recruiting Nissan and Saturn and sponsoring three major road programs to attract auto parts suppliers; led Tennessee to become the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well; left office with fewer state employees, third lowest per capita taxes, AAA bond rating and zero road debt;
  • Elected U.S. Senator in 2002 (54% vs. Bob Clement, 44%); re-elected 2008 (65% vs. Bob Tuke, 32%); re-elected 2014 (62% vs Gordon Ball, 32%);  
  • As Senator, while he was chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (2015-2019), reported 45 bills that became law. Alexander was principal sponsor of most of these laws including the 2015 “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which President Obama called “a Christmas Miracle,” and the Wall Street Journal said was the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter century.” For this, the nation’s governors and the National Education Association gave Alexander their highest awards. Alexander sponsored the “21st Century Cures Act,” which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called “the most important law of this Congress” in 2016. In 2018, he authored the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which McConnell called “landmark legislation.” As chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee over fiscal years 2016 through 2019, Alexander provided four years of record funding for national laboratories, supercomputing and waterways, including restarting Chickamauga Lock;
  • Alexander has also been a principal sponsor of “The America COMPETES Act” (2007), legislation reforming student loans (2015), modernizing how songwriters are paid (2018), funding the National Park Service maintenance backlog (2018).
  • Chairman of the National Governors Association (1985-1986) and U.S. Senate Republican Conference (2007-2012);
  • President, University of Tennessee (1988-1991); U.S. Secretary of Education for President George H.W. Bush (1991-1993); Professor of Practice in Public Service, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (2001-2002);  
  • When not in public office, co-founded a law firm (1972) and two successful businesses: Blackberry Farm, Inc. (1976) and Corporate Child Care, Inc. (1987). 

 

Personal:

  • In 1967, Alexander met Leslee (Honey) Buhler at a Washington, D.C. softball game when she was working for Texas Senator John Tower, and he was working for Tennessee Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. They married January 4, 1969, and have 4 children and 9 grandchildren. They live outside Maryville.
  • Nashville’s Family and Children’s Services home is the “Honey Alexander Center,” recognizing her work for that institution and for her leadership of Tennessee’s Healthy Children Initiative during the 1980’s. 
  • After eight years in the Governor’s residence, the Alexander family moved to Australia. He wrote a book, “Six Months Off,” which Dick Estell read in its entirety on National Public Radio. Alexander has written six other books.
  • Alexander is a classical and country pianist who has performed on the Grand Ole Opry, with the Billy Graham Crusade and with Tennessee symphonies.
  • Member of 440 yard relay team setting Vanderbilt University’s school record (1961); member, Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame; one of NCAA’s 100 Most Influential student-athletes (2006).

 

Education:

  • Maryville High School (1958): Governor, Tennessee American Legion Boys State; winner, state VFW Oratorical contest; winner, Buxton and Jaco Cups in statewide piano competition.
  • College:  Vanderbilt University (BA, 1962): Phi Beta Kappa; Editor, campus newspaper; President, Sigma Chi.  
  • Law School: New York University (JD, 1965): editor, law review; Root-Tilden Scholar

 

Political and Civic:

Messenger and law clerk, Honorable John Minor Wisdom, U.S Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit (1965-66); Legislative Assistant to United States Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. (1967-68); staff assistant to President Richard Nixon (1969-1970);   Manager, Winfield Dunn’s general election campaign (1970); Republican nominee for governor (1974); Governor of Tennessee (1979-1987); Chairman, National Governor’s Association (1985-86); Chairman, President Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors (1986); President, University of Tennessee, (1988-1991); U.S. Secretary of  Education for President George H.W. Bush (1991-93); Candidate for President of the United States (1995-1996, 1999-2000); Elected to U.S. Senate in 2002, reelected 2008, 2014; Chairman Senate Republican Conference (2007-2012).

 

Business and Professional:

In 1972, Alexander co-founded Nashville’s Dearborn & Ewing law firm; In 1976, co-founded Blackberry Farm, Inc., (sold interest in 1993); In 1987, co-founded with Marguerite Sallee (Kondracke), R. Brad Martin, Honey Alexander and Bob Keeshan (television’s “Captain Kangaroo”) Corporate Child Care, Inc., which became publicly traded in 1997 and later merged with Bright Horizons, Inc., becoming the world’s largest provider of worksite day care. (sold interest in 2008).