Sen. Alexander visits Marshall County

Friday, July 3, 2009
County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, left, gets a referral on how to deal with Cedar Ridge Landfill from Sen. Lamar Alexander, center, who suggests he get help from Patrick Jaynes, one of the senator's top aides and son of George Jaynes, mayor of Washington County where there's another big landfill that burns methane, a gas produced by decomposing garbage.

Sen. Lamar Alexander traveled in his Saturn sedan on Wednesday to Lewisburg where he advocated nuclear energy for lower electric bills, anticipated more production at GM's plant in Spring Hill, and commented on health care systems.

Speaking in the same room where a few hours later the Marshall County Commission took steps toward getting competitive bids on employees' health insurance, Tennessee's senior senator to Washington drew a fine line between care and costs.

Americans ought to be able to afford their own health care, he said, counter balancing that with all other programs: "I want you to be able to afford your government." New legislation proposes a health care plan that will cost more than what was spent on World War II, he said. Still, basic health care should be available for those who can't afford it.

He came to listen, and got advice, requests and support.

"I'm battling ovarian cancer," Lynda Sherrell of Verona Caney Road told Alexander.

If she had to rely on "socialistic" health care, "I would be dead," said Sherrell, a member of the County Election Commission, who opposes welfare that allows people to become dependant on such programs.

She also advocates a blood test "that insurance companies don't pay for." It reveals whether someone has cancer. Alexander was encouraged to see what he could do to improve the situation.

UAW Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron of Chapel Hill told Alexander that what he's been saying about the GM plant in Spring Hill and the automotive business in Tennessee "is right on."

"This county houses a lot of our current employees and retirees," Herron said, explaining he came to the senator's "community roundtable" because Alexander was a critical player in getting Saturn and Nissan in Tennessee.

Alexander praised the workforce that's eager to make new cars and said the reasons carmakers came here decades ago are the same for producing more in Spring Hill.

However, he said, "I have no crystal ball for the plant."

Alexander's open conversation with Herron reinforced the conventional wisdom that America's auto industry is gearing up to produce 10 million vehicles a year, or about half of what had been produced.

The car market shows the depth of the recession, Alexander said.

He also spoke of nuclear power, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and how Babcock and Wilcox, a manufacturer in Lynchburg, Va., could be making smaller reactors that might be scattered about the country instead of relying on a few huge power plants.

"Congress is wrong to ignore nuclear power," Alexander said, according to a prepared release from his office. It's "the cheap energy solution to global warming."

The congressional debate on global warming is a choice between high-priced and low-priced clean energy strategies, he said. The U.S. House erred June 27 when it passed a national energy tax in the cap and trade bill. Furthermore, mandates for renewable energy will add more cost and unreliability to electric rates.

"High-priced energy sends jobs overseas looking for cheap energy," Alexander continued. "It will mean more cars and trucks and parts made in Japan and Mexico and fewer in Tennessee."

Instead, Congress should enact a "cheap-energy strategy based on nuclear power, electric cars, offshore exploration, and doubling energy research and development," he said.

Nearly two-dozen Marshall County residents attended the senator's discussion, including David Orr, who said Alexander did a good job as chancellor of the University of Tennessee even though he's a Vanderbilt graduate. He also asked Alexander to "look into the fair tax," that the senator explained would be a national sales tax to replace the income tax.

That's problematic in states like Tennessee that rely on a state sales tax, said Alexander, who's not decided on that issue, but advocates tax reform since the current system is riddled with exceptions.