NASHVILLE (AP) – The Tennessee State Museum has put on hold plans for a statewide traveling exhibit about U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's time as governor after concerns were raised about the state promoting the Republican during his re-election campaign.
Lois Riggins-Ezzell, who was named executive director of the museum when Alexander was governor in the 1980s, told the Knoxville News Sentinel that political considerations never crossed her mind in planning the show.
"We never saw it as political. We saw it as contemporary history," Riggins-Ezzell said. "It just didn't smack me over the head. I guess it should have."
The exhibit had been scheduled to kick off in Knoxville next month. It is now planned to take place after next year's elections.
Riggins-Ezzell said longtime Alexander aide Tom Ingram had agreed to help raise private donations to cover the more than $40,000 cost of the show.
Ingram remains a political adviser to Alexander and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. He is also a paid consultant to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's re-election campaign.
He recalled being a leading advocate for the hiring of Riggins-Ezzell in 1991 when he was then-Gov. Alexander's deputy.
Ben Cunningham, a founder of the Nashville Tea Party, is trying to recruit an opponent to challenge Alexander in next year's Republican primary. He said that nobody recognized the political overtones of the exhibit "strains credulity to the breaking point."
"Anybody with big-road walking sense knows this would be transparently corrupt – to use taxpayer money to promote someone who is running for the Senate," said Cunningham. "It sounds like they stopped it, but it never should have gotten even to the consideration phase."
The show is based on "Come on Along: Lamar Alexander's Journey as Governor," a 2011 exhibit developed by Vanderbilt University after the senator donated 500 boxes of papers to the school.
Ingram said he was involved in helping arrange the donation to Vanderbilt and worked at the request of Vanderbilt officials to plan the exhibit. Riggins-Ezzell assisted in that process and then suggested the traveling exhibit sponsored by the state museum, he said.
Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries said the senator was not worried about the change.
"As far as Senator Alexander is concerned, 2015 is as good as 2013. The exhibit is about Tennessee history and he's not ready to go down in history yet anyway," Jeffries remarked in an email.
Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, www.knoxnews.com
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