Has it been six years already? It sure doesn't seem like six years have passed since the last time Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., slinked back to Tennessee to launch his bid for re-election. But there he was last Saturday, at press conferences in Nashville and Knoxville, hoping to reinvent history, ignore facts and stretch the truth in his efforts to make Tennesseans forget what a sad excuse for a U.S. Senator he has become.
Six years ago, after his first term, he was already being criticized. His votes in support of bloated budget bills, raising the debt ceiling and funding ridiculous green-energy boondoggles with billions of tax dollars befuddled conservative state lawmakers, thought leaders, policy wonks and, ultimately, voters.
Now, with a second term in the U.S. Senate coming to an end, Alexander has even more explaining to do. Besides his now-typical votes to increase federal spending and expand government powers, he infuriated many conservatives by supporting an $85 billion jobs bill and championing the START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia in 2010. He also killed jobs and increased electric bills in Tennessee by voting in favor of the ridiculous Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulations that do almost nothing to improve air quality or health.
Last year, Alexander left his post as the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate in an effort to escape some of the Republican Party's principled stances, which he found incompatible with his own brand of deal-making. In other words, he liked making alliances with Democrats more than he liked the idea of being in the leadership. Since then, he has been busy hanging conservative, limited government policies out to dry in an effort to push various examples of liberal legislative lunacy.
Just last week, Alexander attempted to put a national online sales tax into a defense appropriations bill.
When Tennesseans confront Alexander about his liberal voting record, they are met with shock and indignation. Alexander tries to explain away his votes and defend his actions. In doing so he comes across like a 5-year-old denying eating a piece of cake - even though his chin is covered in icing.
After all, Alexander is a bastion of conservatism and limited government in his own head. And he remains perplexed how we - Tennessee's "little people" - don't view him the same way.
We're all familiar with the idea of a welfare queen - an unemployed, single mother who, motivated by her unwillingness to work, becomes so proficient at manipulating the welfare system that she's able to make a living off of taxpayers.
In the same way, Alexander has become America's "Welfare King." He has spent his life skipping between well-paying publicly funded elected and appointed positions without ever having a real job - or any sense of shame. After working in several taxpayer-funded political staffer positions, Alexander became Governor of Tennessee, then president of the University of Tennessee, then Secretary of Education, then U.S. Senator.
Despite living on the taxpayers' dime for almost his entire adult life, Alexander has managed to turn a series of land deals, stock purchases and business ventures into a fortune worth more than $10 million, according to Roll Call.
Apparently, Alexander has begun to realize that, this time around, things are different. Denying his liberal voting records isn't going to work. Too many people know the truth. And too many people have begun to grow tired of paying his salary when he has become wealthy on the backs of taxpayers.
That's why Tennessee's senior senator has begun his re-election campaign a full 23 months before Election Day. He saw what happened to his friend Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a fellow Republican-in-name-only. Lugar failed to take a challenger supported by Indiana's conservative grass-roots activists seriously until it was too late and was defeated in the Republican primary as a result.
That's also why Alexander chose Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, as his campaign chairman and named Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell and U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Phil Roe, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann honorary campaign co-chairmen.
In other words, Alexander co-opted pretty much everyone he could think of with the name recognition and the fundraising ability to seriously challenge him - including Duncan and Blackburn, the two most legitimate possible threats.
Alexander hopes by getting an early start and getting potential foes - and their money and name ID - in his corner, he can avoid a fight. But he won't. That's because Alexander lacks the one thing that's most important to conservative voters in Tennessee: principles.