What could our nation's capital learn from the Volunteer State? At least three key
points, according to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander.


Curbing borrowing, giving closer examination to healthcare legislation and leaving
education decisions to states were three areas of focus the Blount County
Republican shared with members of the Athens Kiwanis Club on Friday, Jan. 17.


Alexander first shared his experiences as governor building roads across Tennessee to
help entice automobile manufacturers and their suppliers, which he said made it
possible for suppliers to set up manufacturing facilities in most of
Tennessee's 95 counties.


"We built Interstate-quality highways with our own money -¬ paid cash for all the
roads in the 1980s. For the last 30 years, we've used gas tax money to build
new roads and maintain them," Alexander said. "If you look at New
Jersey, for example, their road debt is $13 billion, so they have to borrow
just to pay the bill. Washington does the same. Tennessee's been a
pay-as-you-go state and Washington can do the same."


On the topic of healthcare, Alexander said any legislator pushing for healthcare
reform "should be required to spend two years as a state governor" in
order to see how difficult healthcare programs are to administer. Then, he
said, they might pay closer attention to the legislation before passing it.


"When I was governor, Medicaid was 8 percent of the state budget. Now, it's 27
percent," Alexander said. "It affects everything. With college
tuition, for example, students used to pay 30 cents on the dollar and the
government would pay 70 cents at state schools. Now, healthcare mandates have
squeezed it to the exact opposite."


With regard to education, Alexander said keeping good teachers is the key. Doing
that, he said, would require more focus at home and less from Washington.


"I think the 'Holy Grail' of education would be a 'better parents law,' but since
we can't have that, the next best thing is to make sure we have better
teachers," the former U.S. Secretary of Education said. "Congress
needs to recognize decisions about schools and curriculum need to be made at
home. We don't need Washington looking over our shoulder from a distance."


Although Alexander said of Congress, "There are some things we can do better,"
he told those gathered Friday he still feels the United States' system of
government works.


"George Washington rightly observed the most important inauguration wouldn't be the
first but the second," Alexander said. "We can be strongly divided on
issues, but to still have a peaceful transfer of power from one party to
another is remarkable."