Early voting began Friday, and in Tennessee much is at stake.
This is especially true for Democrats, moderate Republicans and Independents who hope to see congressional gridlock loosen so our government can function again.
For Tennesseans, the most pivotal of our national primary races is for the 3rd District House of Representatives seat, now held by Republican Chuck Fleischmann.
Fleischmann is a signer of the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge, and he made it clear earlier this month in a debate sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WTCI-TV that he thinks any compromise with lawmakers across the aisle is akin to rolling in small pox.
In other words, he has no intention of taking part in the kind of solution-seeking conversations necessary to govern.
He must not be re-elected.
Fleischmann's challenger on the Republican primary ballot is Weston Wamp, a young innovator who grew up watching politics while his father, Zach Wamp, held the 3rd District House seat for 16 years.
Unopposed on the Democratic primary ticket is Dr. Mary Headrick -- a fine and capable candidate who also is a mother, a grandmother, and a physician with degrees in mathematics and computer science. She will take on the winner of the Aug. 7 Republican primary between Fleischmann and Wamp.
But in this Republican-dominated state and region, all of us need to make sure we have the best possible two candidates to choose from come November -- and therefore some insurance of a good representative come January.
Someone who, by his own words, cannot be part of a negotiation and compromise to govern is not that best candidate, nor that good future representative.
In the local debate recently, Fleischmann made his anti-government, tea-party leaning position quite clear: "Everything the federal government touches, it messes up," he said. "The problem is, this is a broken system."
Clearly he's simply forgotten that as a member of the House of Representatives, he then also is "broken."
At another point in his anti-compromising rants, Fleischmann tried to take credit for what was largely Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander's doing to inch the Chickamauga Lock funding a bit closer.
"But first it had to pass the House ... and I didn't have to go over and sing like a liberal to Nancy Pelosi to get that done," Fleischmann said with derision.
Of course, the funding still isn't there for the Chickamauga Lock's completion, and Fleischmann still won't commit to vote for a user-fee sought by barge companies to help finish work there. In a meeting last week with Times Free Press editorial writers, he acknowledged that he has been told that a user fee wouldn't break the Norquist anti-tax pledge. Still, he wouldn't commit to it.
He refers to the sequester and government shutdown as a time of "weaning" folks from excessive government spending.
Seriously? Were unpaid Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park workers "weaned" from their livelihoods? Were the employees of the Oak Ridge Laboratory "weaned" from their paydays? Only federal workers deemed "essential" to keep working were eventually paid back, but virtually all of the "non-essential" furloughed workers appealing for repayment have gone unpaid, according to GovernmentExecutive.com, a news daily website for federal managers and executives.
Does this sound like a congressman who is working for the Tennessee Valley? Absolutely not.
Wamp, on the other hand, doesn't believe that more than 40 votes to repeal Obamacare (Fleischmann would cast that same vote 100 times, he says) is the right fix for a law that Wamp also believes is inadequate. But Wamp says offering no alternative other than repeal isn't the solution, either.
"Even our founding father's didn't get everything right -- we still had slavery (when they finished the Constitution). But they kept working on it. ... This fear (of compromise) has gone too far."
In this Republican primary, voters must cast their GOP ballot for Wamp and send Fleischmann home.
And so should Democrats. This is the perfect time for a crossover vote in East Tennessee. Mary Headrick already is the clear winner of the Democratic primary. And she will be an able candidate in the Nov. 4 General Election.
Democrats cannot miss this opportunity to help Republicans ensure that all of us have a congressman or congresswoman who truly believes in government and understands how to make it work for us again.
Walk across that aisle with a GOP ballot in August, and let's send Chuck Fleischmann back home to be a collections attorney again.