Gerber: Mayfield's mum and voters are cheated

Gerber: Mayfield's mum and voters are cheated

May 13th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

On the side of a box of Mayfield's peanut butter fudge ice cream, you can learn that a serving contains 170 calories, 11 fat grams and 75 milligrams of sodium.

The federal government requires the nutritional information on the ice cream. But there's no law requiring a candidate for Congress to say where he stands on the issues, and one of Mayfield Dairy's namesakes, Scottie, apparently doesn't think he has to.

Mayfield is trying to unseat freshman Congressman Chuck Fleischmann in the Republican primary for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District. He also faces Weston Wamp, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, and businessman Ron Bhalla.

Yet last week, Mayfield once again refused a chance to answer questions about what he believes.

The dairy executive and congressional candidate declined an invitation to participate in a 3rd Congressional District Republican primary debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV Channel 3.

At this point, all voters really know about Mayfield is that he wears a bow tie, sells popular ice cream and milk and has raised a boatload of money. They know his 33-year-old son was charged with vandalism after he confessed to slashing the tire of a Fleischmann aide's car. And they know many residents of this region are intensely loyal to Mayfield's milk, even though it's far more expensive than other brands.

That's not enough.

Voters deserve to know the specifics of where he stands on the federal deficit, abortion, gay marriage, the No Child Left Behind overhaul and a litany of other issues that affect our country's future and the lives of the constituents in the 3rd District. Not to mention local issues such as whether there will be enough money to keep the Chickamauga Lock - critical to this region's economic well-being - open. Or whether Oak Ridge National Laboratory will continue to be at the forefront of research and technology development and a source of well-paying jobs.

Mayfield's website does briefly outline some views about cutting spending, ending bans on oil drilling and ending federal oversight of health insurance. But he has been short on specifics and appears averse to answering questions.

In April, he declined an invitation to take part in a candidates' debate hosted by the Chattanooga Tea Party in June.

And a video posted online last month shows the candidate saying he must get elected to Congress before he elaborates on what he wants to do there.

Addressing the University of Tennessee's College Republicans club, Mayfield said: "I've got a file in my file cabinet that's 'When I Get There.' I haven't really focused on that because I've got to get there first."

His statements and actions are baffling. They're also insulting to voters who are making a critical decision in August.

Mayfield's reluctance to let voters know where he stands on many issues is one of the reasons the newspaper feels it's important to hold a debate. Mayfield has so far failed to distinguish himself from Fleischmann. Mayfield answered "not really" when Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll asked him whether he disagreed with any of Fleischmann's votes or legislative proposals.

At a debate, he'd get the chance to make his case.

Instead, campaign manager Bo Patten said in an email that the campaign is "focusing our time meeting with large groups of undecided voters and getting Scottie's message out to as many people as possible."

But what message is that? Is he telling these "large groups of undecided voters" something that he's not telling everyone else? Does he think his fundraising prowess trumps the public's right to know where he stands?

Or is he counting on voters to make a blind and uninformed decision in the voting booth based on his name recognition and the family brand? (Even his campaign posters and stickers are yellow and brown like Mayfield Dairy milk jugs).

Does he really think he should get away with going to Washington without telling citizens his goals and vision?

Mayfield's unwillingness to answer questions isn't the only problem. Responsibility also lies with the donors backing this vanilla candidate. They should demand that he articulate his views, unless they're simply more interested in defeating Fleischmann than knowing - or caring - where Mayfield stands.

Perhaps Mayfield is shy. Or intimidated by crowds. Or simply not well versed enough on policy to answer tough questions from journalists and constituents.

Whatever the reason, if he cannot handle the pressure to speak publicly here in Chattanooga, good luck facing the army of reporters, bloggers, photographers and videographers that make up the Washington, D.C., press corps.

Of course, if he doesn't start speaking, he may never get there.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfreepress.com.