ABOUT THE DISTRICT
Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District includes about 711,000 residents in 11 counties stretching from the Georgia border all the way to Kentucky: Anderson, Bradley, Campbell, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Morgan,Polk, Roane, Scott and Union.
Median household income: $40,876
Percent of population 25 or older with a high school diploma of higher: 84%
Percent of population with a bachelor's degree or higher: 21%
Number of civilian veterans: 58,924
Voters in Tennessee's 3rd District Republican congressional primary have an opportunity to take the first step on what the United States political landscape will look like in the near future.
They can stick with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a solid conservative who will always vote to protect the sanctity of life and Second Amendment rights, will vote to defund Obamacare another 40-plus times if necessary, and will work hard for district needs such as funding for a new Chickamauga Dam lock, veterans and federal funding for Oak Ridge.
Or, they can vote for challenger Weston Wamp, a solid conservative who will always vote to protect the sanctity of life and Second Amendment rights, has no use for Obamacare (but supports a plan to replace it) and will work hard for district needs such as funding for a new Chickamauga Dam lock, veterans and federal funding for Oak Ridge ... and will bring a millennial's perspective to the House, an enthusiasm for the upside of technology on Capitol Hill and the willingness to try -- just to try -- to work across the aisle with Democrats on issues where there may be common ground.
Wamp, 27, communications director for the entrepreneurial Lamp Post Group and the son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, would become at least the third candidate his age running for a House seat this fall. Without a long resume but extremely well-versed on the issues, he follows in a tradition of young Tennesseans who have sought public office, including Bill Brock, who was 32 when he became the 3rd District congressman in 1962 and Sen. Lamar Alexander, who was 34 when he made his first race for governor in 1974.
He also points out that four signers of the Declaration of Independence were 30 or younger.
And like current Tennessee U.S. Reps. Jimmy Duncan and Jim Cooper and former Tennessee U.S. Reps. Al Gore and Harold Ford, he is following his father's footsteps in seeking elected office.
What Wamp would bring to Washington is a lack of risk-aversion present in so many members of Congress in both the Democrat and Republican parties today. None of those members want to step out of the corner they've painted themselves into to see if there are issues in which, perhaps just on the fringes, there might be compromise.
"Our quality of life is at risk," he says, "if we continue doing what we've doing."
Wamp has the willingness, he says, "to argue [a point] out of pragmatism," to challenge sacred cows, to "talk about the things everybody wants to put on the back burner" like entitlement reform, and to "go [to Washington] willing to work with whoever is there as a young member of Congress."
For taking some of those stances, he was criticized by Fleischmann, 51, during a debate in Chattanooga as sounding like 3rd District Democrat congressional candidate Mary Headrick and was twice chided by Fleischmann that he should "run as a Democrat." He was also accused by the incumbent of wanting to raise taxes.
But Wamp is no Democrat, having said things like "the footprint of the federal government needs to shrink," "I don't think Obamacare is good" and "Obama is not a very capable leader."
And the only tax he's ever talked about raising is one on barge owners -- who also want the tax increase -- to put more money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for infrastructure. For the record, Fleischmann, a Chattanooga attorney, has said he was willing to look closely at the same tax when or if it is put in the form of an actual bill.
The accusatory type of rhetoric from the incumbent is off-putting, especially if you expect a two-term congressman to take the high road.
"I'm not a Democrat," said Wamp, who may have to answer a Federal Election Commission complaint about whether he's on paid leave from Lamp Post and whether his subsequent pay should be termed a campaign contribution, "but I'm not narrow-minded."
Fleischmann touts his successes on helping create a new funding formula that could help speed money to start work again on the new Chickamauga Dam lock, on having $30 million committed to a foundering Erlanger hospital and on opening several veterans clinics throughout the district.
But Wamp says the congressman is being "intellectually dishonest" on all three -- that Alexander and the Senate led on the waterways bill, that the impetus for the Erlanger money came from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and that the veterans clinics were in a five-year plan before the congressman came to office.
Certainly Fleischmann deserves credit on the issues, whether he initiated them or not. And there's no reason to believe his office doesn't perform constituent services as it should.
However, Wamp offers the same conservative principles and the willingness to step out boldly as a member of a new generation not interested in crass partisanship but desirous of accessibility, transparency and a readiness to be on anyone's radar to get things done.
With a district drawn to heavily favor Republicans, either Fleischmann or Wamp is likely to be elected over Headrick, the lone Democrat candidate, in November. A vote for Fleischmann is a safe vote for politics as usual to continue in Washington, D.C., and many will argue that's the best way to go in President Obama's lame-duck last two years.
But a vote for Wamp is not only a vote for a reliable conservative but also a vote for a new generation of conservatives who, as he said, want to be "respectful and civil" with all of Congress and share the conviction that "this country works best if all generations work together, not independently of each other."