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Opinion and Engagement Director David Plazas spoke with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Nashville Tennessean

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s former chief of staff rebuts guest column that his former boss had acquiesced to President Donald Trump’s whims.

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  • Tom Ingram, former chief of staff to U. S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Re: “Sen. Lamar Alexander leaves office under a cloud for enabling Trump’s excesses,” by Roy Neel, former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

An open letter to Roy Neel:

Roy, thanks for your letter to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, published in this space Oct. 29. 

As you probably would have advised your former boss, President Bill Clinton, if a staffer had written a similar critique of him during his various scandals, I’ve advised Lamar personally to ignore your arrogant, partisan remarks and let me respond instead as his former staffer.

Lamar’s “admirable career of public service” (your words) is forged from his own values and integrity and following models of his predecessor, Sen. Howard Baker, who held the office of President in highest esteem regardless of the office-holder; and former Gov. Ned McWherter, who was Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives when Lamar was elected governor in l978.

A reporter asked Democrat McWherter, “Mr. Speaker, what are you going to do about this young Republican just elected governor.” 

McWherter responded, “Well, I’m going to do everything I can to help him be successful, because if he’s successful, Tennessee will be successful.”

Alexander passed laws working with both Presidents Obama and Trump

President Barack Obama, followed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., leave Air Force One after arriving in Tennessee in 2015. (Photo: Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Alexander proceeded with Democrats McWherter and Lt. Gov. John Wilder, who presided over the Tennessee State Senate, to work together to improve schools and roads and attract new jobs to Tennessee, resulting in improved family incomes. 

Lamar said, “I proposed, and they improved, and we got a lot of important things done.”

In Washington, Lamar’s job has not been to run a daily commentary on any president’s speeches, tweets or behavior, but work with whomever has been president to get results for Tennessee and America.  When the president succeeds, the American people succeed.

With President Obama, Lamar fixed “No Child Left Behind”, passed “21st Century Cures” legislation, and led FDA reform, which helped shape all of the parts of the federal government’s pandemic response that are working well today – including faster development of vaccines, federal research into treatments, funding for states to test for COVID-19, and contract tracing.

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With Trump, Lamar passed the “Great American Outdoors Act” to help repair facilities in the Smokies and all of our national parks; updated career technical education programs to help high school students without four year degrees get better jobs; created funding for historically Black colleges like Tennessee State University; and simplified federal student financial assistance programs.

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The senator started early in getting answers about the pandemic

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee and the country owe Lamar our thanks and gratitude, not superfluous, partisan scorn. 

Lamar began convening U.S. Senate briefings in January followed by a series of Senate hearings featuring the nation’s leading public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, CDC Commissioner Robert Redfield, and NIH Director Francis Collins.

It would be easier for any senator to give fiery speeches to satisfy polarized supporters or media soundbites designed for today’s hyper partisan media. We have plenty of those in the Senate already.  They don’t amount to much, and they don’t get many results for their states or the country.

Lamar has spent his career, patiently and quietly, getting results, and it shows; so, sorry Roy, about your “heavy heart” as you take your poorly-timed, partisan shots at a great statesman who has given his all for Tennessee. Hope you can get over it.

Respectfully,

Tom Ingram

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Tom Ingram, former chief of staff to U. S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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