Chuck Fleischmann's expensive and mostly impersonal effort last year to succeed the retiring Zach Wamp in Congress promised a lot. The winning Chuck for Congress campaign touted the candidate's knowledge, experience and willingness to work hard for Tennessee's 3rd District. The implication, of course, was that Chuck would be man of action in Congress. Not so. Fleischmann the Republican congressman doesn't quite match the portrait proffered by Fleischmann the candidate.
The rookie representative has kept a low profile since assuming office in January. He's quietly voted a strict and conservative party line, but he's shown little initiative. He clearly prefers to react to events and issues rather than originate or promote them. That's certainly not what he promised district voters.
He promised to act decisively and quickly for the district. Yet he waited until last Tuesday to introduce his first piece of legislation - a bill to roll back what he calls an unfunded mandate on Tennessee counties to update highway signs. Even that was barely original.
Fleischmann joined Scott DesJarlais, a fellow Republican and first-term Tennessee 4th District representative, to sponsor the House bill, which matches legislation introduced by Tennessee's Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in the Senate. The bill, incidentally, also was the first introduced by DesJarlais.
Fleischmann, to his credit, does his duty chores. According to a group that tracks such things, Fleischmann has not missed a single roll call - almost 500 - since taking office. That's commendable, but akin to receiving an attendance award in school. It's what an elected official does with his or her vote rather than the casting of it that is important.
Fleischmann's votes reliably rubber-stamp the parochial interests of right-wing GOP orthodoxy. Such partisanship is a disservice to the district. Many of his constituents - including some in his own party - would prefer a more reasonable approach to the issues. That, however, would require a flexibility of mind, a willingness to compromise and a desire to engage in public discussion with all his constituents that Fleischmann has yet to display.
That's in keeping with past practice. Fleischmann ran on a platform that catered to special interests rather than one that addressed the broad needs of the district. He was dogmatic, making it clear that he was not open to the give-and-take necessary to expedite representative government.
He's always been wary of the public. His campaign relied heavily on TV ads and partisan gatherings, rather than events open to the public. Fleischmann even refused to debate opponents. That detachment remains.
A spokesman in Fleischmann's Chattanooga office said Thursday that as far as she knew the congressman had no public engagements during the July 4th holiday. Constituents who want to talk to their congressman still can't easily do so. They can, however, send an email.
Fleischmann seems to prefer it that way. He's got an eye on the next election cycle. He obviously thinks that maintaining a low profile is the best way to avoid saying or doing anything that will stir up opposition. That is politically expedient, but makes it hard to evaluate what he's accomplished for the 3rd District almost a fourth of the way through his two-year term. The performance-based answer? Not much.