Tennessee: Local Politics Dominate 3rd District GOP Primary
By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report
June 5, 2012 —
“All politics is local,” the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) once famously said, and you can’t get more local than Tennessee’s 3rd District (Chattanooga, etc.), where freshman US Rep. Charles “Chuck” Fleischmann (R) is battling two prominent opponents in the August 2 primary, in part because the US House failed to include money for repairing the Chickamauga Lock.
But if that’s not local enough for you, there’s the question of whether one of his foes, Weston Wamp, 25 – yes, 25 – son of Fleischmann’s predecessor in the job, former US Rep. Zach Wamp (R), applied for a job in Fleischmann’s office and was turned down. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and running against the guy who wouldn’t hire you is another way to get to Capitol Hill. Young Wamp acknowledges that he met with Chip Saltsman, Fleischmann’s campaign consultant and later chief of staff (his father set up the appointment), but denies he sought a job.
Or there’s the problem faced by the third major contender, Scottie Mayfield, famous as the spokesman for his eponymous dairy. Well-known and wealthy, Scottie has to cope with a mischievous – if that’s the right word -- son, Michael Mayfield, 33, who allegedly slashed the tires of a member of Fleischmann’s staff. Moreover, when the judge postponed young Mayfield’s trial until after the primary, folks claimed he got special treatment due to his father’s prominence.
All of this hoo-hah that has little to do with putting the US economy back on track may be on the front burner precisely because there is so little political or philosophical difference dividing the candidates. All three, the incumbent included, are conservative Republicans, and any ideological differences that separate them could barely accommodate the width of tissue paper.
As a result, Wamp accuses Fleischmann of being part of the “the snake pit” in Washington, the same one his father served in for 16 years, and accuses the freshman congressman of taking out-of-district PAC money. (Fleischmann says he only takes contributions from PACs that are “pro-life, pro-gun, fiscally conservative.” When pressed, Wamp indicated he might do the same.) He also has to deal with the not-insignificant whiff of nepotism that his prominent father’s support engenders, including helping raise funds. Wamp also stresses his energy, the opposite side of the “too young” coin, and according to press reports, had no trouble holding his own in the debate.
Mayfield appears to be banking on his business experience, combined with the recognition his name and face have in the district as a spokesman for his family’s dairy business. He showed a lack of political tact when he referred to Medicaid recipients as “nontaxpayers.” He has also declined to appear in debates. If elected, Mayfield has promised to serve only ten years, a not-so-sly reference to ex-US Rep. Zach Wamp’s 16 years of service, after pledging to serve only 12. As for Fleischmann, Mayfield, when pressed, couldn’t say how his votes in Congress would differ from the incumbent’s.
Fleischmann, a lawyer, emphasizes his hard work during his two years in office and refers to himself as “the grinder.” As the incumbent, he can issue press releases on the latest uptick in unemployment, noting that it “underscores the continued failure of President Obama’s economic policies,” and tout his own “seven-point jobs plan.” And he can appear at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Chattanooga National Cemetery, getting photographed with the president of the Magnolia Chapter of the Gold Star Wives.
On the money front, as of March 31, Fleischmann had $760,000 cash-on-hand, Wamp had $436,000 and Mayfield had $416,000.
Back to the Chickamauga Lock, it is not a trivial matter. Were the lock’s deteriorating condition force it to shut down, it would block some 318 miles of navigable rivers above Chattanooga, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. But whether any freshman congressman could have gotten money for the lock in the present climate in Congress, especially with the GOP ban on earmarks, is questionable. US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is trying a different approach in the Senate, and may be successful.
Two Democrats, physician Mary Headrick and businessman Bill Taylor, are seeking their party’s nomination in this usually Republican district.