In Washington, where power is the name of the game, it is rare to see a lawmaker willingly cede influence. But that is what Tennessee Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has done in announcing that he will step down in January from his position as Senate Republican Conference chairman.
Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee and a former U.S. secretary of education, said he wants to focus on legislation. He said that in his position as Republican Conference chairman, he has to spend nearly half his time on things such as news media strategy and political goals.
"A lot of my job is political messaging, and we have 47 political messengers in the Republican Conference," he said. "So they can do that."
Once he is out of the leadership post, he said, he can focus his time in the Senate more directly on job creation and other vital matters. He said that stepping down from the chairmanship, which he has held for about four years, "will liberate me to work for results on the issues I care the most about."
He said those issues include, among others:
• Getting a handle on excessive federal regulations.
• Dealing with out-of-control spending on health care and other parts of the budget.
• Maintaining the United States' position as the world's largest economy.
What makes Alexander's decision to step down from his leadership position even more remarkable is the fact that had he stayed in that job, he may well have succeeded Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl as minority whip - the second-most powerful position for a Republican in the Senate. It simply isn't typical of politicians not to take power when it is available.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker praised Alexander for his willingness to do what he thinks best, even if it means surrendering a powerful chairmanship in Congress.
"I thank you for having the courage to step down from a position that many Republican senators would love to have," Corker said.
Despite his pending resignation as conference chairman, Alexander made it clear that he will seek re-election to a third term in the Senate in 2014.
And, he said in a news release, "I intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving serious issues."
Corker told reporters that Alexander's decision to leave the leadership post was understandable.
"You can easily find yourself in this place adhering to groupthink, and typically groupthink is not what solves many of the major issues that our country has to deal with," Corker said, adding that once Alexander is no longer in a leadership position in the Senate, he will be able to "express himself more fully."
Alexander, now 71, has served capably in elected office in both Tennessee and Washington. We have every confidence that he will continue to serve well in the Senate, for the benefit of Tennessee and the United States as a whole.