published Sunday, July 29th, 2012

The District 3 riddle

Given the partisan bent of the 3rd Congressional District, the common assumption here is that the Republican party will again win the seat, as it has since Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lloyd stepped down at the end of her tenth term in 1994. Her departure ushered in Republican Zach Wamp's 16-year tenure, which he voluntarily ended two years ago in his campaign for governor. His voter base tells a distinctive tale.

Wamp won each of his eight terms with at least 64 percent of the district's vote, a margin that widened to more than two-thirds of the vote after the decennial redistricting that followed the 2000 Census. The Republican/tea party wave in 2010 entrenched the aura of GOP dominance in most state and federal elections in Tennessee.

The decennial redistricting after the 2010 Census substantially changed the shape of the 3rd District, however, and narrowed its partisan bias. The new line-up of counties appears to give independent voters potential swing vote leverage. But since it didn't affect Hamilton County, the main media center and still the district's most populous voter base, Republicans still confidently take the seat for granted.

So their focus in the 2012 elections is the internal challenge in the August GOP primary against one-term incumbent Chuck Fleischmann. He's widely painted by supporters of his chief GOP foes -- Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp -- as an unblinking and rather lightweight puppet for Speaker John Boehner's agenda in Washington. His voting record and stilted regurgitation of right-wing boilerplate blather largely substantiates that charge. Regrettably, his opponents are equally vague and superficial.

The Headrick-Taylor toss-up

With the limelight tracking the GOP contest and campaign money flow, little attention has been given here to the more substantive Democratic primary contest between Dr. Mary Headrick, a primary care physician, and Bill Taylor, an Ooltewah businessman and CPA who for more than 30 years held high positions in the health care industry in Nashville.

The irony of the lopsided focus is lamentable. Headrick and Taylor both stand head and shoulders above the GOP contenders in the range, quality and insight of their thinking on the issues that most affect the overwhelming majority of Tennessee voters and families: Health care, stagnant wages, tax inequity, declining public infrastructure, educational competitiveness for job growth, reasonable environmental rules, and support for Medicare and Social Security, the mainstay programs that more than 90 percent of Tennessee retirees and workers ultimately depend on.

Quality health care, they point out, is neither secure nor affordable for many, if not most, working Tennesseans, and it will become much less so if Republicans manage to dismantle the falsely maligned Affordable Care Act. Less than 55 percent of Tennessee employers now offer health insurance. And with or without employer help, the problems of insurance affordability, soaring deductibles, premiums, skeletal coverage and medical bankruptcy keep rising. That creeping crisis will become disastrous unless the ACA rules take full effect in 2014.

Tax inequity, as well, remains a major issue at both the state and national levels, yet Washington's Republicans pledge to end the Bush tax cuts for middle class if Democrats refuse to extend the unfair Bush tax-cut windfall for multimillionaires and billionaires.

Dr. Headrick and Taylor adhere to similar fiscal goals. They want to help cut through congressional gridlock with a balanced policy for debt reduction -- paring spending and cutting the gusher of corporate and high-end tax avoidance, along with threshold adjustments in entitlement spending.

Taylor focuses more on job creation, especially through infrastructure, research and development, high-tech manufacturing and educational linkages. His goal is to "bring people up the middle class, not down to the middle class." Headrick's focus tends more on Tennessee's high rates of poverty -- rural and urban -- and poor health, and the broad benefits of repairing the decline in social and educational infrastructure. Both cite abundant data that link improvement in educational attainment and improved health with better jobs and quality of life, and both would be notable advocates for such policies.

Headrick and Taylor are each easily superior to the Republican bench. Both are outstanding candidates: Voters can't go wrong in their choice in this primary election.

The Republican dilemma

Mayfield and his supporters tout his dairy business acumen and character as reason to abandon Fleischmann. But his public performance, lacking as it is, completely undermines that thesis. Mayfield initially admitted that he would have voted mostly like Fleischmann had. And since then, he has shunned public debates, failed to offer or explain his agenda and positions, and refused to come to this newspaper for interviews.

Given the campaign cash he has scooped off Lookout Mountain's GOP fortress, he apparently thinks he has Chattanooga wrapped up and doesn't need to say what his actual agenda would be in Congress.

He's wrong. If he's afraid of public debates and media interviews, his leadership, judgment, candor and stature for Congress remain untested, unproved and wholly unworthy of voters' trust.

Fleischmann's parroting of Republican caucus talking points could be delivered by a machine and it wouldn't make much difference: Authenticity and credibility escape him. He still fails to persuade us that his tenure in Congress will serve the core needs of Tennesseans, or trump the gridlock political agenda of Speaker Boehner.

Weston Wamp's easy delivery of his views outshines Fleischmann's skills, but it doesn't equate to solid views on essential policies to promote the health, well-being and economic competitiveness of District 3. Republicans' dilemma -- whom to support -- is understandable.

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The real problem is in the fundamentals, such as a gerrymandered district under an election formula that serves more to disenfranchise than not.

According to what I could find, Fleischmann won election with just over 90,000 votes. Wamp in 2008 got twice as many. Sure, it was a presidential election year, but in 2006, Wamp still got over 130,000.

Can't we at least have some minimum turn-out requirements or something?

July 29, 2012 at 12:29 a.m.

With the limelight tracking the GOP contest and campaign money flow, little attention has been given here to the more substantive Democratic primary contest between Dr. Mary Headrick, a primary care physician, and Bill Taylor, an Ooltewah businessman and CPA who for more than 30 years held high positions in the health care industry in Nashville.

July 29, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.

Compare this to a collection lawyer "yes" man a "fearless" college grad and a man who inherited a dairy farm. Remove the R and the D and just look at the life experiences of the above candidates. It seems Chuck is more beholden to party than country and Mayfield should stick to scooping ice cream and golfing, while in my humble opinion if Weston wants to show us his "servent leadership" he would make a great officer in the armed forces, there he could develop his leadership skills , learn how to shoot that gun properly and earn the right to show those white tomb stones. Then after he has developed a more rounded world view he would make a promising representative. So please 3rd district quit cheering for your team and think for yourselves. Doing more of the same will not get us out of the mess we are in.

July 29, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.
una61 said...

Harry, save your ink and just say "Vote for the Democrat". You're the ultimate "Yellow Dog Democrat!

July 29, 2012 at 11:53 a.m.


I had to google the term yellow dog, funny stuff. People would vote for a yellow dog if he was a democrat. Nice historical reference. But I think if you are refering to my previous comments I would be more of a blue dog than yellow if I was a democrat. But they are a dying breed as well as a moderate republican. But being born and raised here I feel it is the Republican party who has taken the 3rd district for granted. Just look at the candidates in the primary vs the two on the other side. At a time when ACA will dominate the next session we get two yes men and the prodical son on the right vs a physician and an accountant that has ran a hospital on the left. Two people who may know a thing or two about the problems facing our healthcare system. But for me as long as we vote out our incumbent I will be happy because until we remove all who would put party above country we will not solve any of our problems.

July 29, 2012 at 12:40 p.m.
una61 said...

Who are you? I'm referring to Harry Austin.

July 29, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.

And now the tables have turned, to where people would NEVER EVER vote for a Democrat regardless of who has the R by their name.

It's funny, the details change, but things stay the same.

July 29, 2012 at 3:06 p.m.
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