He won't say so, but you get the sense that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander just might give himself an A – though maybe not quite an A+ – for his work over the past five years.
Alexander, who is seeking a third six-year term this fall, released a "legislative scorecard" for 2009 through 2013 today. He also put out a list of his accomplishments from last year, when he says he played a key role in nine of the 72 Senate bills that became law, some of which "were of a special importance to Tennessee."
"I came here as a conservative who wants to solve problems and get results, and I've tried to do that," he told reporters during a conference call this morning. "While the Senate and the Congress didn't do nearly what it needs to do in terms of fixing the debt and dealing with health care and balancing the budget, I think we showed that it's still possible to get results."
But while noting his high scores from the NRA, National Right to Life and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vanderbilt University stopped short of giving himself top marks.
"I'm going to let the people of Tennessee give me the grade. It would be presumptuous of me to give myself a grade."
Alexander is facing a Republican primary challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas in August. If he wins that contest, he'll likely face the Tennessee Democratic Party's best hope thus far, Knoxville attorney Terry Adams, in the general election in November, though another Democrat could still get in the race.
Material that Alexander's office sent to reporters says he sponsored two bills that became law in 2013, co-sponsored one and "was crucial to the passage of six additional pieces of legislation." Among other things, those laws protect fishing rights below U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky; expand research, education and intervention efforts to prevent premature births; reduce the interest rates on all new federal student loans, and tighten up accountability in the event of "another nightmare like the deadly meningitis outbreak of 2012."
Asked how he was able to do that in a frequently dysfunctional Washington, Alexander harked back to his days in Tennessee's Capitol building from 1979 to 1987 – and uttered four words that are seemingly taboo to many hardcore conservatives.
"I had some experience as governor, and governors know that their job is not just to make speeches, but it's, after you make your speech, to also try to get a result," he said. "In the United States Senate, where you have to have 60 votes to pass anything important and we only have 45 Republicans, I think it helps that I learned to count in the Maryville city schools and that I know that I have to" – Note to reader: here they come – "work across party lines."
Alexander said he hasn't been able to do everything he hoped to accomplish, however. He said he'd like to be able to do more to lower the federal debt.