U.S. Senate Republicans’ top man on education policy—Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the ranking Republican on the education committee—has found himself in some hot water lately with tea party Republicans in his home state who would like to mount a primary challenge against him, at least according to this story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. (For the record, Alexander, who won every county but one in his last primary, has been endorsed by every GOP member of his delegation except for ultra-conservative Rep. Scott DesJarlais. And he’s raised more money for his campaign than all but two other Senate Republicans.)
Next week, however, he’s headed back to his home state (Nashville, specifically) where he and tea party superhero Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will meet with Kevin Huffman, the commissioner of education, at a charter school to discuss charter policy. This isn’t the first time Paul and Alexander have been in cahoots on K-12—they also worked together on an (ultimately defeated) budget amendment earlier this year, that would have allowed students to take their Title I dollars to the school of their choice, including private schools.
And next Tuesday, Alexander will be meeting with parents to discuss school choice for parents in D.C. He’ll be joined by two other GOP senators with deep tea party connections—Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Both Paul and Scott are members of the Senate education committee, and co-sponsors of Alexander’s bill to revise the ESEA law.
There’s an education policy angle here, to be sure, (public school choice is a big piece of Alexander’s “freedom” agenda), but the subtle political message behind these events, at least from my reading: Alexander is seen as a party leader on education issues, and tea party folks are happy to associate themselves with him and his ideas.