published Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Some political candidates in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District have spotty voting records


by Chris Carroll

On the campaign trail, most politicians grip, grin and act like it's not too big a favor: "Appreciate your vote!"

Yet some 3rd Congressional District hopefuls who are pleading for civic responsibility in the Aug. 2 primary are sporadic voters themselves.

Democratic candidate Bill Taylor confronted his record of missing 10 elections in 10 years.

"Obviously I think voting's more important now than I did in 2002 or whatever," he said.

Republican dairy executive Scottie Mayfield has skipped 11 of 34 county, state and federal elections since 1990. He missed the 1996 presidential election and its Tennessee primary, leaving no trace of his thinking on former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole's challenge to President Bill Clinton. (Mayfield voted in the Republican presidential primary in 1992.)

Later Mayfield failed to cast a ballot in the 2000 presidential primary, where he could have chosen from a field that included Texas Gov. George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Mayfield also is the only 3rd District Republican hopeful whose history shows him voting in an exclusively Democratic race.

Records show Mayfield cast a vote in the 1990 McMinn County Democratic primary. One of the 1990 Democratic school board candidates, Becky Jacquish, donated $250 to Mayfield's congressional campaign this year.

A spokesman for Mayfield did not respond to detailed questions in several phone messages and emails.

Among the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, and six 3rd District challengers, only 25-year-old Weston Wamp can claim a perfect voting history.

In a phone interview, the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp described voting as something "people in all corners of the world literally would die for."

Since registering in Hamilton County three days after his 19th birthday in 2006, Wamp is 10-for-10.

"Those included some drives back to Chattanooga because I was in college for a few of those years," said Wamp, a 2009 University of Tennessee graduate.

Fleischmann registered to vote in Hamilton County a month before Wamp was born.

Since 1987, Fleischmann has voted 35 out of 38 times. He missed the 1988 presidential primary and two subsequent county elections.

Poll
Would you vote for a candidate who hasn't voted regularly?

"As you can tell, having not missed an election in nearly 20 years, I take my civic duty of voting very seriously," Fleischmann said in a statement.

Another consistent voter is Democrat Mary Headrick, the Union County physician who praised the 1994 advent of early voting in Tennessee.

"Before that, I'd be in line to vote on election day, and they would call me to the ER for a patient," she said.

Ron Bhalla, a Republican who is a naturalized American citizen, is 9-for-14 since registering to vote in 2002. He missed the 2004 presidential election.

"I don't know why I didn't vote," Bhalla said. "Maybe I thought [Bush had] a wide enough margin to win."

A native of India, Bhalla said he moved to the United States in 1979 and became a naturalized citizen in 1999. Campaign manager Ken Orr said Bhalla waited three extra years to register to vote because he didn't follow politics.

"He was concentrating more on financially supporting a wife and family," Orr said.

Bhalla has never voted in a Hamilton County primary, but he isn't much different from the greater community.

In the 2010 county primary, for example, 8 percent of Hamilton County voters cast ballots, according to newspaper archives.

"I think I'm like a lot of folks in this district," said Taylor, the Democrat. "I like to vote, but you can't always do it."

Records show that the 2010 general election -- the most recent 3rd District contest -- attracted 41 percent of county voters, but that election included a governor's race, too.

Matthew Deniston, the only independent in the race, registered to vote in Bradley County on April 23. Records show he voted in November 2010 while he was living in Savannah, Ga., and he said he voted for McCain in 2008 after two military tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq.

"I don't think I voted in the Army," he said. "We were deploying every six months, so I was more focused on that than politics."

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