Speaking on “The Rule of Law,” Alexander outlined the scenario whereby he had become governor a few days early in 1979 in order to prevent his corrupt predecessor, Ray Blanton, from freeing an indeterminate number of state prisoners via commutations or pardons. As Alexander told the story, which was illustrated by a vintage videoclip of his emergency sign-in ceremony from Nashville’s Channel 5, one of those prisoners was rumored to be James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King.
A key point of the story was the bipartisan agreement to break precedent , involving such Democratic officials as the two then Speakers of the House and Senate — Ned McWherter and John Wilder, respectively.
Besides illustrating the pre-eminence of “the rule of law,” the saga clearly suggested the ecumenical nature of Alexander’s new professional course. As Alexander told the UM law students. “This liberates me to do the things I care about the most” — e.g., fashioning “a coalition of good Republicans and good Democrats” regarding matters like the safe disposal of nuclear waste, reform of No Child Left Behind, and the looming national debt.
Alexander used a football analogy regarding his decision to drop out of the leadership post: “If you’re in the huddle, and the quarterback says, we want to sweep left end, and you want to go around the right end, so I go around right end and everybody else is going around left end, that’s not a very good place for me to be.”
Said Alexander: "I can do more in a body where you need 60 votes as an independent senator," adding, "I'm still a good Republican."
The former governor also tipped his hands on presidential preferences for 2012. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Alexander said, “I like the governors.” That would be former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, current Texas governor Rick Perry, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Executive experience, the ability to set an agenda, and practice in forming coalitions were all desiderata for the office of president, as the onetime presidential aspirant (1996, 2000) saw it.
And he even praised Perry for sticking to his guns on the one thing the conservartive Texas governor’s rivals have abused him for — his relatively liberal policy of extending educational benefits to children of potentially illegal Mexican immigrants.