published Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Scottie Mayfield would keep Chattanooga office


by Chris Carroll
 Republican primary candidate for Congress Scottie Mayfield
Republican primary candidate for Congress Scottie Mayfield
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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If Scottie Mayfield wins Tennessee's 3rd District congressional race, he would be the first non-Chattanoogan to capture the post since the 1890s.

With that in mind, some of the Scenic City's public officials have wondered whether the dairy executive would keep Chattanooga's congressional office or open an office closer to his Athens, Tenn., home.

The answer may be both.

In an interview Saturday at the opening of his Chattanooga campaign headquarters, Mayfield smiled, hesitated and said he hadn't considered the congressional office question. First, he said, he must beat U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two others in the Aug. 2 Republican primary before squaring off against the Democratic nominee in November.

"It's a cart-before-the-horse issue," he said.

But in a subsequent conversation amid chatty supporters and coolers bursting with Mayfield milk and lemonade, he said he would keep a Chattanooga office "for sure," adding that he might establish an Athens office "for my own convenience." Mayfield also said he would staff an office near Oak Ridge, where numerous U.S. Department of Energy programs are housed.

Based on a record-breaking fundraising quarter and widespread name recognition, Mayfield is considered a serious challenger to Fleischmann, so local officials were excited to hear the lifelong McMinn County resident's commitment to keeping congressional roots in Chattanooga.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger mentioned the April 27, 2011, tornadoes and other major storms that have warranted rapid federal response over the last year. He said Fleischmann's office at the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building in downtown Chattanooga has been handy.

"Obviously their office has been there -- Johnny-on-the-spot, so to speak," Coppinger said. "It's important to have an open line of communication."

But rural officials, including one from Mayfield's newly redistricted McMinn County home, said there's more to the 3rd District than Chattanooga. Several said they hope Mayfield follows through on the possibility of having a 3rd District office in Athens.

The city of 13,458 is 60 miles northeast of Chattanooga. Before this year's redistricting, it was in U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.'s 2nd District.

Duncan has had a satellite congressional office in Athens since the 1970s. At least one local official wants to keep it that way.

City Manager Mitchell Moore said residents often come to him to get information on veterans benefits, Social Security and other federal programs his office doesn't handle.

"This is a rural county -- there's lots of rural places around us, and not everyone here has a computer at home" to ask for a congressman's help electronically.

"Plus, lots of people here have Scots-Irish heritage," Moore added. "They like their help one-on-one."

Last year, each House member was given about $1.4 million for rent, supplies, travel, phone, utilities, mail equipment and staff salaries, federal records show. Mayfield said he hoped there would be enough money to have offices in Athens, Chattanooga and Oak Ridge, but he didn't know if that would be possible.

Fleischmann spokesman Jordan Powell said the congressman would maintain offices in Athens, Chattanooga and Oak Ridge if he's re-elected.

Chattanooga businessmen Ron Bhalla and Weston Wamp also are running against Fleisch-mann in the GOP primary. Maynardville, Tenn., physician Mary Headrick and Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor are fighting for the Democratic nod. Independent candidate Matthew Deniston also is running.

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