U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, is the odds-on favorite to win his Republican 3rd District primary in August and the general election in November.
He has backed the most important projects in the district, raised plenty of money, garnered the right endorsements, tacked away from the party's far right, and is unfailingly polite and respectful.
Yet, three serious though underfunded Republican primary opponents say all that is not enough. They see the majority of people in the 3rd District not having a role in their government, having paychecks too thin and the national debt too fat, and not having enough information about the issues that come before Congress.
We support Fleischmann in his bid for a fifth term but would love for him to sit down with these three challengers, Jeremy Massengale, Harold Shevlin and Bill Spurlock, and get a feeling for what they're thinking, experiencing and hearing.
The incumbent, after all, though he did have somewhat of a hardscrabble youth, was a Chattanooga attorney for many years before running for Congress and may not have as good a feel for the lives many of his constituents live as his opponents do.
However, as noted, Fleischmann has done his due diligence to help get more money for the replacement Chickamauga Lock, made sure the federal government assets in Oak Ridge are properly funded, worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority to help return a portion of land to the Cherokee Indians, helped secure money to build the Bradley County State Veterans Home, and is involved in caucuses on nuclear cleanup, national laboratories and babies, the latter most recently discussing children born with problems stemming from parents with opioid abuse.
"The people of Tennessee give me my report cards," he says. "I owe conservative and liberal constituents."
Massengale, a Cleveland resident who is a representative for a Chattanooga laboratory, believes the rising national debt will ensure "my kids' prosperity will not be as great as mine" and feels the district's congressional representative should push the opportunities students have in the state for training at the state Colleges of Applied Technology, which he says can be a model for the country.
The Scott County native calls himself "very conservative" and says he's a supporter of term limits, a policy to cut the national budget 1 percent per year, a return to direct primary health care (cutting out insurance companies) and a limiting of presidential powers to act only against immediate attacks.
Shevlin, a California native who now lives in Ooltewah and is self-employed, would like to return the Republican Party "from top to bottom" to the party of Lincoln and Reagan. He asserts "nobody's going to take your gun," believes we need to get rid of tariffs, feels the country's going backward on clean energy, says no border wall is needed (but a workforce on the border) and believes the federal government assets in Oak Ridge are "not as high a priority." He would hold monthly town hall meetings and offer polls on issues to gauge how people want him to vote.
Abroad, he says we're "alienating allies and befriending dictatorships." The U.S. must not be isolationist, he says, but "work together globally." In Afghanistan, he says, we must keep a presence to help keep terrorists at bay and re-start the war games (suspended pending denuclearization talks with North Korea) off the Korean Peninsula.
Spurlock, who grew up on Lookout Mountain and has done everything from shovel out elevator shafts to serve as a military officer, calls himself a conservative but believes you have "to bend a little bit to give." He says he is a Christian, pro-life and a believer in smaller government but a candidate who says it's imperative "to listen to the guy at the very bottom." Though not naming him as an mentor, he says he agrees "with most of what Bob [Corker, the state's junior senator] has said and done."
He is supremely concerned with the national debt, "believing everything we can do to reduce it is significant." He feels there is room to trim at the spending end and says tighter controls should be placed on unemployment and that "every able-bodied person should go to work." "Public debt," he says, quoting former President Thomas Jefferson, "is the greatest of dangers." For that reason, he says, he would have voted "no" on President Trump's tax reduction plan.
Fleischmann, meanwhile, says he ran for Congress to "fix things," has an "established record" and maintains he has "been effective." We would agree and endorse him but hope he'll hear out his primary opponents with all of their concerns.