When congressmen take to the town hall circuit, they often say they’ll talk with constituents from all walks of life to get a better idea of their district’s needs.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann was no exception. In an Aug. 23 news release, the first-term Chattanooga Republican said he would meet residents from “all over the district” to “best represent them in Washington.”
But out of eight town hall meetings held in Hamilton County last week, seven were in dead-red Republican territory, according to the latest election data.
“It’s a very smooth political move,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said. “He has big weaknesses, so he’s playing to his strengths.”
Jordan Powell, Fleischmann’s press secretary, denied political gamesmanship.
“Chuck heard from people all across the spectrum of beliefs and viewpoints,” Powell said.
While Fleischmann’s 3rd Congressional District has chosen a Republican representative since 1994, local voting numbers paint a more complex picture. Last November, Democratic nominee John Wolfe won the most votes in 39 of 128 Hamilton County voting precincts (Wolfe earned 32 percent of votes districtwide, while Fleischmann netted 48 percent in the general election).
Fleischmann included only one of those precincts — downtown — in his series of town hall meetings last week. The downtown meeting was held at 4 p.m. at the EPB building.
Collegedale, East Brainerd, Hixson, Lookout Valley, Red Bank, Signal Mountain and Soddy-Daisy hosted the other seven meetings. In last November’s general election, Fleischmann received 52 percent of the votes in those areas, and Savas Kyriakidis, an independent who described himself as more conservative than most Republicans, picked up 22 percent, records show.
Powell said urban residents could visit the congressman’s downtown district office and added that the other seven town hall sites were favored since they’re outside the immediate downtown region and “closer to people’s homes.”
At the meetings, a few residents challenged Fleisch-mann’s voting record, but only a couple dozen people attended each town hall — a possible byproduct of scheduling all the meetings during normal business hours.
The congressman compensated for that with Thursday evening’s “tele town hall” that attracted 11,000 people, a figure that came from the telecommunications company hosting the call, according to Powell.
By holding 16 town hall meetings in one week, Fleischmann bucked a national trend. Lawmakers nationwide held just 500 constituent meetings this summer, according to the Associated Press, compared to about 650 in 2009 when President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill incited vehement arguments and denunciations at town halls across America.