Dr. Mary Headrick, the standard-bearer for Democrats in the campaign for Tennessee's 3rd District seat in Congress, has a tough row to hoe. Though she espouses policies that show a well-versed and constructive understanding of district and national needs, her campaign is attracting relatively little attention in the heavily Republican district. Her voice should be heard. Her views on the Chickamauga lock, for example, are sensible, substantive and a clear and preferable alternative to those of her opponent, GOP incumbent Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.
Fleischmann seems content to ride his not-so-substantial victory in the GOP primary to success in the November general election. He's keeping a relatively low profile, appearing mostly in front of friendly audiences and providing platitudes about problems rather than offering serious proposals to resolve them. That might prove to be an effective political strategy, but it shortchanges voters in the district.
Fleischmann, for example, admits the Chickamauga lock needs repairs and eventual replacement, but offers no method to fund either. Indeed, he's on record opposing even a small increase in taxes to rebuild the lock and the nation's other crumbling infrastructure and has provided no other realistic funding options. He seems content to allow the current budget impasse in Congress to continue. If it does, all work on the lock will cease next month.
Moreover, he has no plan of his own to address the lock's problems. He's simply appropriated one promoted by his colleague, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, also a Republican, and hopes for the best. Third District residents and all who benefit from the heavy traffic the flows up and down the Tennessee River deserve better.
Headrick has specific and useful proposals. She would increase the current 20-cent-per-gallon marine diesel tax to 29 cents. That's a viable option that even barge operators, hardly a pro-tax business group, view favorably. She would pursue issuance of relatively low-cost bonds backed by state and federal government to underwrite lock maintenance. She also favors modification of the Inland Waterway Trust Fund formula, an option explored by Alexander, and pledges to work diligently and cooperatively to break the budget logjam that threatens not only the Chickamauga project but similar ones around the nation.
Headrick provides specific solutions to the lock and fiscal impasse. Fleischmann offers sound bites to please his conservative constituents and to curry favor with House Speaker John Boehner and his cabal of partisan naysayers.
Headrick should be heard, though Fleischmann is doing his darndest to prevent that. He's promised a public debate, but has not honored that pledge yet. Indeed, he seems to believe that if he ignores his Democratic opponent, she'll go away. She won't. Neither will the problems at Chickamauga dam.
If nothing is done to provide long-term funding for the lock - the likely outcome of Fleischmann's current stance -- the lock could close. That would cripple if not completely strangle the regional economy and put an estimate 150,000 more long-haul trucks on the region's already overburdened and crumbling roads, according to one regional expert. Fleischmann conveniently if not purposefully overlooks the likely outcome of his flawed, myopic policies.
Headrick offers viable alternatives to Fleischmann's superficial positions on other similarly pressing topics, like health care, stagnant wages, tax inequity, job growth, improved educational opportunities, environmental rules, women's issues, the survival and growth of small businesses and Medicare and Social Security. She brings both credibility and a deep understanding of such issues to the table. Her opponent, despite nearly two years in Washington, still fails to do so.
Headrick's passion for fair and equitable government, her grasp of the issues and her willingness to discuss them suggests she would admirably serve the interests of all residents of the 3rd District in Washington. That's something Fleischmann has yet to prove.