meets with Sevier
United States Senator Lamar Alexander was in town Monday, May 24, to have breakfast and discuss issues with some of his Sevier County constituency.
State legislators, local elected officials, and interested citizens gathered on the third floor of the Sevier County Courthouse to meet and greet Alexander and hear his viewpoints on three key issues: the war in Iraq, clean air, and education. A special recognition was given to some members of the 278th Armored Cavalry Howitzer Battery unit, stationed at the Ridge Road National Guard Armory, who were in attendance.
The former Tennessee governor said he was “here to soak up some wisdom” and told the audience, “being from Maryville keeps my feet on the ground.”
In discussing the war, Alexander admitted, “It’s hard to keep what’s happening in Iraq in perspective” because of the round-the-clock onslaught of media coverage. While conceding, “All of us are embarrassed by the courts-martial,” he assured his constituents that “the truth will be found out” about the prisoner abuse incidents.
“This is new to us,” Alexander said. “We’ve never had to fight terrorism before. Terrorism on this scale changed the way we do things.”
He said there was a consensus of opinion, even in the previous administration, that “Saddam Hussein would one day try to use his weapons against us.” On 9-11, he said, “We were hit and [President Bush] hit back.”
Pointing out that 40 percent of the soldiers who are deployed to Iraq are reservists, Alexander said the United States “still [has] a mission in Iraq, and we have a responsibility to see our mission all the way to the end.” He said he would be “spending time focusing on those left at home” and announced an initiative to provide up to two weeks of free childcare to soldiers home on R & R.
On the issue of cleaner air, the senator said, “We need to come up with a comprehensive solution to this problem,” noting the air in about 75 percent of Tennessee’s counties does not meet present government standards. He promised to support “a stronger national law on those who contribute to pollution” and he will encourage “strict rules” on coal-fired powered plants such as those used by TVA. One of his proposals is that pollution-control devices would be required on smoke stacks. The senator also said the state’s “counties need to come up with an action plan” that goes beyond the present standards and promised to work with state and local officials to find a solution to the air quality problem.
“The Great Smokies are our treasure,” Alexander said, “and people come here expecting to see them.”
As for education, Alexander wants “more federal laws for local school funding that gives parents more say in how the money is spent.” His proposed Pell Grants for Kids would provide each student a $500 per year scholarship that parents could decide how it would be spent.