BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY

Lamar Alexander is the only Tennessean ever popularly elected both governor and United States Senator.

He is undefeated in six statewide Republican primaries, twice as many as any other Tennessee Republican. (Sen. McKellar won 6 Democrat primaries.) 

But piling up political records has never been Lamar Alexander’s goal. 

This is what he says about serving in the United States Senate: “It’s hard to get here, hard to stay here so while you’re here you might as well try to accomplish something good for our country.”

So in 2012, after being elected three times chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, he stepped aside from leadership as he said then “to work on the issues that I care about the most and that are important to the country.”

That led to: 

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, fixing No Child Left Behind, which Obama called “a Christmas miracle.”

  • The 21st Century Cures Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said was “the most important act of this Congress.” (in 2016)

  • The Great Americans Outdoors Act in 2020, which everyone said was the “most important conservation and recreation law in a half century.”

  • The Music Modernization Act in 2018 to help songwriters get paid fairly for their work, which was the first copyright law change in a generation.

  • The Opioid Crisis Response Act in 2018, which McConnell called “landmark legislation.”

  • Securing record funding for six years for national labs, inland waterways and keeping America First in supercomputing.

  • In 2015, saving college students hundreds of billions by tying student loan interest rates to market rates  

  • In 2019, simplifying the federal aid application forms that 20 million families struggle to fill out every year to go to college.   

  • In 2005, he engineered passage of the America Competes Act to make the United States more economically competitive worldwide. 

He was instrumental in the passage of all these laws, either as principal sponsor or, in his words, as the “parade organizer.”

For most of that time, it helped that he was the chairman of two of the Senate’s most important committees: the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. 

This is similar to the way he approached his job as governor for 8 years in the 1980’s. He was the first Tennessean to be elected to consecutive, four year terms as governor, and he used those years to:

  • Raise family incomes by bringing Saturn, Nissan and the auto industry to Tennessee.

  • Create better schools and colleges -- leading Tennessee to become the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well, create summer Governors School for outstanding high school students and 100 $1 Million Chairs of Excellence at the state’s universities.

  • Enact three new road programs with zero debt to give Tennessee what truckers in 1991 called the “best four lane highway system in the country.”

  • Left the state with an AAA bond rating, near zero debt, fewer state employees, and the third lowest per capita taxes. 

  • Create Tennessee Homecoming, which gave a new sense of confidence and optimism to the 3,000 communities that Tennesseans call home.

LONGER BIOGRAPHY

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;

  • 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 (2015-2020), reported 72 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 SIX 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), simplifying the federal student aid application form and providing full funding for historically black colleges and universities (2019) and cutting in half the National Park Service and public lands maintenance backlog and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (2020).

  • 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); partner, Baker, Donelson Law Firm (1993-2000)