No one should be surprised that Rep. Chuck Fleischmann wouldn't speak directly to Chris Carroll, this newspaper's reporter, on Monday about a possible 2012 re-election campaign. That's nothing unusual. Fleischmann, it is increasingly evident, refuses to talk to constituents or anyone else.
Carroll's query - prompted by a New York Times story about opposition to Fleischmann next year - was answered, instead, in an email from Jordan Powell, a spokesman for the congressman. "Right now," the correspondence read, "we're worrying about the deficit, cutting spending and getting our financial house in order. We're not thinking about politics." That's disingenuous, to say the least. There's strong evidence to the contrary.
A Federal Election Commission report itemizes $102,674 raised for a potential 2012 campaign. Given that and continuing fund-raising efforts, it's clear that someone in the Fleischmann camp is thinking about politics and getting its own financial house in order, regardless of the congressman's silence and the rhetoric flowing from his office.
Though a congressional rookie, Fleischmann is an old hand when it comes to avoiding the public and its inquiries. He usually refused to appear with 2010 GOP primary opponents, showing up only when failure to do so would erode his party credentials. In the general election, he was a will-o'-the-wisp. He never gave the public or his opponent a chance to engage him in discourse.
That pattern has continued since Fleischmann took office. Earlier this month, a New York Times reporter tried to ask Fleischmann about a possible challenge in the upcoming 3rd District GOP primary from Weston Wamp, the son of former Rep. Zach Wamp. The congressman was mum. Chip Saltsman, his chief of staff, answered for him, providing a statement that mirrored the one Powell sent to Carroll on Monday.
The failure to communicate is the hallmark of Fleischmann's brief congressional career. The congressman seems to prefer email as a communications tool. There's nothing wrong with that - if a response is forthcoming. In many instances, apparently, one is not.
Al Ezell, in a letter to the editor printed in this paper on July 3, delineated his email adventure with Fleischmann. He called the congressman's office and was told the best way to contact him was via email. He did so. Four months and several phone calls later, according to Ezell, he still had not received a response. The congressman, apparently, is no more forthcoming via email than he is in person.
A staffer in his Oak Ridge office said Tuesday that Fleischmann has no public events scheduled. His Web site confirms that. Given his reluctance to answer questions, face the public or speak to the media, constituents might rightly ask Fleischmann how he can serve their and district interests. If past practice is any indication, the question would go for naught.
It's unlikely to elicit an answer.