"Nervous," "cautious" and "afraid to say anything" is the way seasoned political observers described first-term U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga.
A near defeat in his 2014 Republican primary election changed all that.
The third-term U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is more confident, more outspoken and more or less has adopted the mantra to do as much as he can for whomever he can wherever he can for as long as he can.
The congressman, who presently has neither a primary nor general election opponent for a fourth term in 2016, told Times Free Press editors and reporters Thursday he made a "change of direction" after the 2014 primary election in which he defeated businessman Weston Wamp by a couple of percentage points.
In fact, Fleischmann severed ties with longtime political adviser Chip Saltsman after the primary and, with wife Brenda "and our board," handled fundraising and strategy for the general election in which he handily defeated Mary Headrick.
Saltsman had been with him since his 2010 congressional bid, in which he edged out former state Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith. He also served as Fleischmann's chief of staff during much of his first two terms and ran his 2012 re-election bid. Saltsman left the congressional staff in 2013, but Fleischmann's campaign paid his consulting firm during the 2014 primary run in which even the congressman's supporters thought some of his advertising against Wamp crossed the line.
Not having Saltsman allowed him to save money, he said, and a newfound energy for reaching out has caused more people to be "much happier with me as their congressman than they were three or four years ago."
Fleischmann said he has not abandoned his bedrock fiscal and social conservative principles but "realized there was a great debate going on" with a "lot of unrest and disagreements about basic things." He had "a vote and a role," he decided, so he could "continue just to fight or he could try to accomplish something," whether large or small.
Emblematic of his new direction are his strategies on workforce development. Pulling in players from the left and right, business and labor, and public and private, he has sought in several seminars to draw attention to the need for skilled workers in manufacturing and the trades. Even the U.S. Department of Labor has noticed and asked about it, he said.
It's a matter, finally, Fleischmann said, of "growing into the job, of doing the best job in the environment you're in."
It's a role the congressman wears well.