This week, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has been away from Washington, D.C., visiting elected officials in newly added counties to Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District.
Fleischmann said Thursday he had been meeting with mayors in McMinn, Monroe, Roane, Morgan, Scott and Campbell counties, of which portions or all were added to the 3rd District in last year's redistricting. The congressman said although he had campaigned heavily in the new counties during last year's election, he wanted to reach out "immediately" to county administrators during the beginning of his second term to gauge input on issues.
The congressman said he hoped the meetings would help restore constituents' current opinions of Congress.
"I think it is the duty of a good congressman to be accessible, to serve the entire district, to let them know that I care about their concerns and that I'm solicitous of their advice," Fleischmann said. "I don't want them to think that I'm the sort of person that shows up once a year and instead lives in this crazy place on Capitol Hill."
The congressman said that discussion topics ranged depending on the county he visited. In Morgan and Scott counties, the congressman said talks centered on jobs related to coal and natural gas; in Monroe and McMinn counties, the discussions focused on infrastructure.
John Gentry, mayor of McMinn County, described a meeting with Fleischmann on Thursday as "positive."
"So far, we're very pleased," Gentry said. "He seems to be reflective of the those values that citizens expect of our congressman … We told him about projects we have and were careful to tell him that we understand [the country] is in a tough budget situation. If cutting programs are part of the answer, you're not going to see a push-back from us."
Previously, the congressional representative for McMinn County had been 2nd District Rep. Jimmy Duncan. After winning November's election, Fleischmann opted to keep an Athens office that had been previously used as an office for Duncan open as an additional 3rd District office.
Gentry added that he did not feel any "bitterness" from residents of McMinn County regarding Fleischmann's primary race against Scottie Mayfield, former head of Mayfield Dairy Farms and a GOP candidate last year. In the Aug. 2, primary Mayfield carried McMinn County.
"We just weren't very familiar with Chuck Fleischmann," Gentry said. "We were familiar with Scottie. McMinn County is a better place because of the Mayfield family; I don't think anyone would ever deny that. But I don't think there's any bitterness. It was a federal election, and things can get tough."
Fleischmann said he planned to meet with officials and groups within the five "original" 3rd District counties during his next constituent workweek. The counties are Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, Anderson and Union counties.
Updated @ 8:25 a.m. on 2/1/13 to correct the mayor of McMinn County's name: It is John Gentry, not Jim Gentry, as originally reported.