Sen. Lamar Alexander began 2012 by joining the Senate rank and file, relinquishing his title as Republican Conference chairman and stepping away from his status as third-ranking Republican in the Senate.
Having served in the post since 2007, Alexander said he was ready to begin putting more of his energy toward solving certain issues from a bipartisan perspective, a claim he followed through on at times throughout the year. In the spring, Alexander suggested a change to the funding formula for the Chickamauga Lock—a recommendation he later followed with legislation aimed at restructuring the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and increase in a diesel tax for barge operators.
Alexander also broke from his party's line on a vote geared at overturning a costly EPA clean air regulation, citing a desire to preserve the air quality in his home state. The senator visited the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to emphasize his rationale for going against many of his fellow Republicans before finally siding with Democrats and five Republicans to overturn the proposal.
For his vote, Alexander became the target of a $400,000 television ad campaign linking him to President Barack Obama's "war on coal" and was praised by a countering ad campaign from a Washington environmental group.
The senator still offered plenty of disagreement toward his political opponents, calling for a GOP-controlled Senate and blasting the president for his handling of discussions surrounding the fiscal cliff.
Alexander also sought answers on an outbreak of fungal meningitis, which killed more Tennesseans than any state in the nation, suggesting higher regulatory supervision on compounding agencies across the country. A member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Alexander planned to introduce a bill upon the convening of the next Congress in order to address the responsibility of who should supervise the agencies.
As a combination of tax increases and automatic spending cuts drew nigh, Alexander quietly revealed he had a bipartisan "emergency backup plan" he would be ready to put forward if negotiating talks failed.
Looking ahead, the 72-year-old senator's year drew to a close as he confirmed he would seek re-election to a third Senate term in 2014. Alexander lined up the top Republicans from Tennessee as co-chairs for his campaign, hoping to ward off any possible challengers.