Lee Anderson has penned more than 50,000 editorials over his 70-year newspaper career, extolling his brand of constitutional conservatism long before Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan or the modern day tea party championed the cause of a strong military and limited government.
Anderson said he learned the values of conservatism early in life through Sunday school, the Boy Scouts and the military.
“I’ve always been conservative and I’ve always loved history, which I think shows the value of conservatism,” the 86-year-old editor of the Free Press editorial page said. “I’m not a partisan Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”
After serving as an Air Force cadet during World War II, Anderson began covering the courthouse and politics for the Chattanooga News-Free Press and began assisting then-editor Brainard Cooper with editorials.
He was covering the 1948 presidential campaign when Cooper had a heart attack and Anderson was asked to fill the void.
He became editorial page editor at age 22 and hasn’t stopped writing his opinion pieces since.
In 1948, the first presidential election in which Anderson could vote himself, he endorsed then-South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, who ran as the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) candidate. Like many Southern editorial writers in that day, Anderson supported state segregation laws even after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. Anderson opposed federal efforts to enforce the high court ruling against state segregation mandates, claiming such federal actions violated the 10th amendment rights of states to govern themselves.
Early in his career, most of those in office were Democrats. But Anderson gave an early voice to the rising Southern, conservative Republican Party. Since his 1948 endorsement of then-Democrat Thurmond, Anderson has consistently endorsed Republican candidates for the White House.
“Lee’s editorials, I think, have been a driving force in changing this community into a more conservative area,” said Harold Coker, a former Hamilton County commissioner, GOP congressional candidate and longtime Republican activist. “When I moved to Chattanooga in 1961 there were not a lot of conservatives or Republicans. But Lee has always championed conservative government and made a substantial impact on many people, including me.”
In Tennessee’s then Democratic-leaning 3rd Congressional District, Anderson gave voice to a young 31-year-old Republican challenger, Bill Brock, who in 1962 was trying to become the first Republican elected in nearly a half century.
“Having the active support of the Free Press and Lee Anderson helped not only articulate my message but gave me the credibility to get elected,” he said.
Brock went on to serve four terms in the U.S. House before being elected to the U.S. Senate and appointed as chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. trade ambassador and U.S. labor secretary.
“Lee labored early in those political vineyards of conservative thought which made all the difference in the world,” Brock said.
Even his Democratic opponents give Anderson credit for his civility and constancy over many decades.
“While we have differed on a lot of issues, he has laid out his position consistently through the years for the public to consider and we wish him well in his retirement,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said.
Anderson’s conservative voice has often been in stark contrast to the liberal editorials exposed by The Chattanooga Times. The Free Press and the Times battled for readers for 63 years before the two daily papers merged in 1999 under the ownership of WEHCO Media, the Arkansas company owned by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter E. Hussman.
As a combined paper, the editorial pages of the once-competitive dailies have survived with the Times editorial page aptly on the left and the Free Press editorials appearing on the right. Today the Times Free Press is the only U.S. newspaper that continues to run two editorial pages.
“The South used to be solidly Democrat, but its changed through the years,” Anderson said. “I haven’t changed, but I think this region has.”
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.
Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...