Chuck Fleischmann, first elected in 2010 as our 3rd District congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, has spent three terms — six years — growing into a place where he finally seems to understand that signing a Grover Norquist tea party pledge not to spend money was not the same as governing.
That was woefully apparent even in his second two-year term when he acknowledged the desperate circumstances surrounding the lack of funds to continue work on a replacement for the crumbling Chickamauga lock on the Tennessee River, but he could not bring himself to vote to allow even a tax increase on barge fuel that barge companies were begging to have enacted. Finally with the intervention of Sen. Lamar Alexander and someone's semantics suggestion to term the tax a "users fee," Fleischmann "grew" and backed the measure early in his third two-year term.
Suddenly, one month after his November 2014 win, Fleischmann wrote then-House Speaker John Boehner about the "broad coalition of bipartisan lawmakers and industry groups" who supported such a fee increase. He even spoke on the House floor about how the tax rise — oh, yeah, "user's fee" — combined with the inland waterways funding formula he and almost every other reasonable lawmaker supported would fix crumbling locks like that at Chickamauga Dam.
By the way, in that six-year hiatus of stalled lock work, the final estimated cost to complete our new lock more than doubled from $310 million to $755 million. And $80 million of the $180 already spent on its replacement came from President Obama's stimulus package — which Fleischmann opposed, of course.
We didn't really have six years to waste while our congressman grew up in the House, and we certainly don't have another two or more years to wait for him to achieve governing maturity.
Let's send him home.
3rd District: Melody Shekari
In the Democratic primary, three people have qualified to try to unseat Chuck Fleischmann.
They are: Melody Shekari, 28, a former policy fellow for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's office; Michael Friedman, 44, a UTC public relations professor, and George Ryan Love, 37, a Wal-mart employee.
Shekari is the clear choice. Friedman, a New Jersey native and longtime New Englander, is new to the region, having moved here in 2013. He said he decided to run "because there is an obvious lack of adequate representation for the majority of the district's citizens." Love wears a Bernie Sanders button and says his platform is all about workers' rights.
Shekari, though young, has a strong and focused platform. She would work to close corporate tax loopholes, raise the minimum wage, invest in infrastructure and the clean energy industry — especially in East Tennessee. All of those things, she notes, would boost jobs and the economy.
She also would work to improve the Affordable Care Act, find sensible compromises on gun rights and gun safety, and seek student debt relief.
She grew up here and learned about hard work and sacrifice from her parents, who came from Iran to the United States seeking opportunity. Her father worked for TVA and her mother started a day care before earning an accounting degree from UTC. She graduated from GPS while working at Steak-n-Shake and as a tutor.
Shekari found her calling and became something of a policy wonk when she got involved in the Model United Nations program in the 10th grade. From there, she went on to obtain a degree in business and economics from Bentley College in Massachusetts, a master's degree in public administration at the University of Washington in Seattle and a law degree from the University of Southern California.
Throughout school, she worked in the hospitality industry as well as in universities to help others succeed through tutoring and teaching. During the summer and after graduating, she also worked in small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
After completing her education, she returned home to Chattanooga to put her schooling and work ethic to work for us. As a policy fellow here, she has worked to develop a short-term vacation rentals policy for the city. She left the mayor's office in March to campaign for Congress.
Is she young for such dedication and for the seat she seeks? Certainly, but she has the policy know-how and solutions maturity that our current congressman sorely lacks.
She sums it up this way: "My entire adult life I have not seen a functional Congress. We have to figure out a way to work together. My generation is good at working together."
She also is focused on a specific purpose: "I'm going to stay involved in politics. I will always work for young people and minorities."
In this year of heightened political interest — when the rules are pretty much out the window and the country is screaming for change and for a Congress that works to resolve conflicts, not to gridlock them, Melody Shekari may just be the perfect person in the nick of time.
Let's give her a shot at it. We have nothing to lose and much to gain.