Please don't fall into the trap of voting for an incumbent because you think his experience is important. We're especially talking now about 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who joined Congress in 2011.
Certainly experience is a good thing, but what Fleischmann has learned best over the decade is how to stay out of sight until it's time to model a hard hat and campaign for re-election.
Take the dog and pony show earlier this week in Oak Ridge, ostensibly to celebrate the completion of clean up at the former K-25 site, a former uranium enrichment complex that later was called the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant and perhaps eventually will be an industrial park.
"In Oak Ridge, we do it a little bit better or a whole lot better than the rest of the nation," Fleischmann told people gathered there.
Did we mention that this is an area equal to the size of 225 football fields and that clean up began in the mid-1990s after the site permanently shut down in 1987? A quarter of a century of cleanup. That's about nine football fields a year. But we digress. Let's talk about things closer to home.
Like the Chickamauga Lock replacement project that has been in the works in fits and starts since 2006. This writer reported on April 8 of that year that "construction officials have pushed the opening of the new lock back one year, to 2013. [Wayne] Huddleston [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager] said delays with funding caused the work to start later than first projected. Similarly, the projected cost has risen by $1 million to about $319 million after the Office of Management and Budget adjusted the estimate for inflation."
Here we are in 2020 with a different congressman and different president and the lock is still not finished. In fact work stalled for three years while Fleischmann, who had signed a no-new-taxes promise shortly after he was elected, drove the completion cost up still more with his inaction to press for funding.
Waterways Journal in May wrote that the lock replacement, now estimated to cost $792 million, "has not been included in the president's budget since 2010, "although since 2015 funding has been received through the Corps' Work Plans from funding pots created by Congress."
That "funding pot" came at the suggestion of now-retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, who backed a barge industry-pushed plan to raise the fuel tax on barges by 6 to 9 cents a gallon. To help Fleischmann around his no-taxes pledge, Alexander later called it a "user fee," and pointed out that without it, the Army Corps of Engineers probably would not be able to restart work on a project on which taxpayers already had spent about $200 million.
Even in the summer of 2014, long after work stopped on our replacement lock and while stimulus-purchased parts were still arriving here and being mothballed, Fleischmann still wouldn't commit to supporting the diesel tax, er a user fee, for which barge owners were begging. In fact, it wasn't until October when the gate on the old lock got stuck and closed the river that Fleischmann finally said he was willing to support the "user fee" legislation.
Eventually, Fleischmann and Alexander also successfully pushed through a new funding formula for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund which pays locks and dams. But our new lock still isn't expected to be completed until 2023 — hopefully before the existing lock's stability becomes so compromised that gates are closed again.
This year, Fleischmann has another fresh-faced Democratic opponent with no political experience — Meg Gorman, a hospitality and tourism specialist who leads the customer service and support team at Whole Foods Market.
"My instinct has always been to get out of the office and spend my time among the people I serve," she says about her career and current job. "That will be my instinct as a member of Congress too. If the people I represent never see me and can't talk to me, because I only show up in public for a hard-hat photo op, and I only communicate through tele-town halls, I'm not doing the job the way it was meant to be done."
Gorman also checks all the boxes for a Democratic candidate, admiring both Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders.
Vote for Gorman. We need her can-do passion in Congress, and we're certain she will learn much faster than Fleischmann.