The Electoral College, Lamar, and Me
The Electoral College is this nebulous “thing” that no one ever really sees and the members seem to come and go in relative anonymity. So I appreciated very much the opportunity to cover for CNN Tennessee’s Electoral College vote after the chaotic 2000 election that saw Al Gore lose his home state to George W. Bush.
The night before the vote we met with several of Tennessee’s 11 electors at steak joint not too far from the state capitol in Nashville. It was December and it was unexpectedly frigid with the prospect of snow on the day of the actual vote. They were mostly down to earth folks who felt the gravity of their task and a devotion to the unique method the nation’s Founding Fathers conjured to basically ratify the election held a month earlier. None of them had any desire to flip their vote to their state’s native son. I don’t recall any of the electors using the term “rubber stamp,” but that’s pretty much the way they saw their responsibility. One even went to far as to say “that boy ain’t really a Tennessean anymore…he’s long gone D.C.”
The next day we showed up early to do our morning live shots but had the opportunity to eyeball the chamber where the 15-minute process would take place. We were told, very sternly, to remain in the visitor’s gallery and not to wander onto the floor. No problem. We were set up outside on the capitol steps to do our live shots and could only hear, vaguely, what was happening. At one point the anchor asked me to describe what was going on at that second even though I was 20 steps and at least 200 feet and a couple of doors away. No, I did not have a monitor to see the feed from the floor.
Check out the transcript from that liveshot I think I faked it pretty well! The magic of preparation. I’m certain it all went down just the way I reported it since no one called to correct me and the producer didn’t yell at me through my earpiece.
Afterwards, the deed done, we retreated to the visitor’s gallery, ostensibly to do a live interview with Lamar Alexander…an elector and former Tennessee governor, U.S. Senator and onetime presidential candidate. Nice man. As we waited for our slot to come up we made small talk, discussed the election and had a great old time. He didn’t seem to be in a rush. After about 30 minutes of this my field producer called down to the Atlanta control room to find out if/when we were going on since we were hanging onto a prominent politician who must have had plenty of better things to do than sit around jawing with a reporter awaiting a two-minute live interview. I got the word through my earpiece and immediately turned redder than Memphis barbecue sauce. “Um…I’m sorry Senator. The producer just informed me something else in the world has happened and our spot was dropped. I’m extremely sorry for holding you up for so long. It was a real pleasure to meet you.” Guess what? Sen. Alexander cracked up, shook my hand and said, “Honestly, the pleasure was mine. If you hadn’t kept me here I’d have to go back out in the cold and figure out what the hell to do the rest of the day.”