Lamar Alexander was born in 1940 in Maryville, the son of a kindergarten teacher and an elementary school principal. He is a seventh generation Tennessean. As Governor he helped Tennessee become the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well, established Tennessee’s Governor’s Schools for outstanding high school students and created Centers and Chairs of Excellence at colleges and universities. He is a former U.S. Education Secretary for George H.W. Bush and was President of the University of Tennessee.
He has served on the HELP committee since arriving in the Senate in 2003. In this role, he has championed elementary and secondary education policies that return most education decision-making to states and communities, including whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing and how to evaluate and reward outstanding teachers and principals. He has led efforts to improve federal early childhood programs through reauthorization of the Head Start Act, and to improve opportunities for, and protect the rights of, students with disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He is committed to expanding school choice and charter school options for parents and teachers. He has also worked to reduce burdensome federal mandates and regulations that increase the costs of higher education. His bi-partisan legislation to strengthen research and educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math—called the America COMPETES Act—first became law in 2007 and was reauthorized in 2011.
Alexander is one of the Senate’s most ardent supporters of a state’s right to adopt a “right-to-work” law. In 2011, he helped lead the fight against the National Labor Relations Board’s move to stop Boeing from building airplanes at a nonunion plant in South Carolina. In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Alexander wrote that if the case set a new precedent, “Jobs would flee overseas as manufacturers look for a competitive environment in which to make and sell cars around the world.” He introduced, with South Carolina’s senators, a bill to preserve federal law’s existing protections of state right-to-work laws. In the weekly Republican address he was chosen to deliver, Alexander said, “Boeing is America's largest exporter, but we want them to export airplanes, not jobs.” Later in the year, the administration withdrew its complaint against Boeing.
On health issues, Alexander has been a leader in the effort to increase research, education, and intervention activities related to premature births, newborn death, and disability caused by prematurity. The PREEMIE Act reauthorization bill he introduced with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was passed by the Senate in 2012.
Alexander has championed legislation to ensure drugs and medical devices are specifically tested, labeled, and proven to be safe and effective for children, as, often, nothing is known about how drugs and devices approved for adults will affect children. He led the effort to direct the Secretary of Health to develop voluntary guidelines for schools to prevent students’ exposure to food allergens and ensure a prompt response when a student suffers a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction.
He has worked to move innovative medical devices to market more quickly and safely, so that patients who suffer from rare medical conditions have a better opportunity for treatment or cure. He has also led efforts to combat prescription drug abuse—helping states better monitor and prevent the increasing problem of prescription drug abuse.
He has been a leading advocate for reforming the health care system to lower health care costs so more Americans can afford to buy health insurance. He voted against the new health care law and has encouraged instead passing immediate insurance reforms and going step-by-step to reduce health care costs. Such reforms might include allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines; permitting small businesses to join together to offer cheaper insurance to employees; limiting junk lawsuits against doctors; reducing waste, fraud and abuse; and expanding health savings accounts.
Alexander was asked by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to be lead-off speaker for Republicans at a summit in Feb. 2010 to discuss the president’s proposed health-care law. He warned President Obama that premiums for millions of Americans with individual insurance would rise under the president’s proposal. The president disputed Alexander’s charge, but a report by the Congressional Budget Office confirmed that premiums would indeed rise.
Alexander was elected three times by his peers to serve as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference—the third-ranking Republican position in the United States Senate and a position he held from 2007 till Jan 2012. He is the only Tennessean ever popularly elected both governor and U.S. Senator, and he is the first Tennessean elected to consecutive four-year terms as governor.
In his campaign for governor, Lamar Alexander walked 1,000 miles across Tennessee in his now famous red and black plaid shirt. Once elected, he helped Tennessee become the third largest auto producer and the first state to pay teachers more for teaching well.
He is a classical and country pianist and the author of seven books, including Six Months Off, the story of his family’s life in Australia after he was governor.
In 2006, the NCAA named him to the list of the "100 Most Influential Student-Athletes" in its 100-year history.
In private life, he helped found what has become the nation’s largest provider of worksite day care.
Lamar Alexander and Honey Buhler were married in 1969. They have four children and five grandchildren. He is a Presbyterian elder.
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