published Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Conservative groups ask Sen. Lamar Alexander to retire

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is not conservative enough for some Tennessee conservatives, those conservatives wrote in an unconservative manner.

Matt Collins, who describes himself as a Republican activist, authored an open letter to Alexander that was released Wednesday.

The letter is signed by 20 political groups throughout the state. Most of them are tea parties. Others include Gibson County Patriots, Volunteers for Freedom and We the People, which consists of the people of Tipton County.

"Our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous," Collins wrote to Alexander.

"America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values. Quite honestly, your voting record shows that you do not represent the conservative values that we hold dear and the votes you have cast as Senator are intolerable to us. Furthermore we have serious doubts about your ability to fix our problems since you have played such a significant role in creating them."

When reached for comment Wednesday, an Alexander spokesman merely said, "Senator Alexander is focused on being the best senator he can be."

The letter comes as part of a larger movement called "Beat Alexander." The movement is organized by the Real Conservatives National Committee.

While the group has made plenty of noise in opposition to Alexander, it does not have a large financial backing. In a quarterly report filed to the Federal Election Commission on July 20, the Real Conservatives National Committee $1,400 in cash on hand. Alexander, meanwhile, has $3.1 million in cash on hand.

Alexander has been a U.S. senator since 2003, and he will run for re-election next year. From 2007-12, he was the GOP Conference Chairman, which is the No. 3 leadership position for Republican senators. And before that, Alexander was Tennessee's governor from 1979-87.

Alexander is a lifelong Republican, but some of his actions in recent years have upset members of his party. In particular, Collins pointed to some legislation that Alexander has supported.

In October 2008, Alexander voted for the Financial Asset Purchase Authority and Tax Law Amendments, which among other things allowed the secretary of the Treasury to buy $700 billion worth of troubled assets from banks.

And in August 2009, Alexander voted to appropriate an extra $2 billion to the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

Mark West, the president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, did not sign Collins' letter. But he did endorse a similar letter to the senator written about two months ago.

In addition to some of the legislation that Alexander has supported, West disagrees with the stances he has taken. In July 2009, Alexander became the first Republican leader to support Sonia Sotomayor's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, more recently, he was one of 13 Republican senators to support an immigration reform bill in June.

"He's got a tremendously moderate-to-liberal voting record," West said. "It's time folks began to hold him accountable."

In preparation for next year's election, some conservative groups will host "Beat Lamar" forums that begin in Nashville and run through September. The Chattanooga Tea Party will host a forum on Sept. 14.

During the forums, potential candidates will try to explain why Republicans should support them instead of Alexander during the primary. But, in his letter, Collins wrote that Alexander's run for re-election shouldn't even make it that far:

"We urge you to conclude your long and notable career by retiring with dignity instead of fighting against a serious conservative primary challenger who would expose to all Tennessee voters the actual history of your voting record."

Contact Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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