If elected this year, Weston Wamp could become the youngest member of Congress. The Chattanooga Republican turns 27 this month.
If elected, he would return the East Tennessee seat to a member of the Wamp family. His father, Zach Wamp, held the seat for 16 years, from 1994-2010.
Wamp tried to unseat the incumbent, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, once before, in 2012. He wasn’t successful. Now, he’s trying again.
“Tennessee’s Third District deserves better representation,” Wamp said during a recent interview in Oak Ridge. “At the very least, they deserve a choice at the ballot box.”
Wamp suggested Fleischmann’s record could hurt the two-term congressman. Wamp said many federal employees and U.S. Department of Energy contractors are not pleased with Fleischmann’s performance, especially after a high-profile budget vote that led to a partial government shutdown in October.
“I’ve heard overwhelmingly…they’re disappointed,” Wamp said.
The temporary shutdown started Oct. 1 and ended Oct. 17, just days before the Y-12 National Security Complex expected to furlough up to about 3,600 workers. The nuclear weapons plant had already started an orderly shutdown. Officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory had also started preparing for a possible temporary shutdown and unpaid furloughs in case the shutdown had continued.
Wamp called the decision to shut down the government over a dispute over “Obamacare” (the Affordable Care Act) “flippant” and a “failed strategy.”
“Politics is more important in some cases than the people that he represents,” Wamp said of Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican.
Wamp has also been critical of Fleischmann’s fundraising, saying that most of the congressman’s campaign contributions in the third and fourth quarters of 2013 came from special interests and donors who live outside the Third District.
Fleischmann did not respond to a request for comment, but a campaign spokesman said he could be available for an interview later.
Zach Wamp gave up the Third District House seat in 2010 to run, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for Tennessee governor. Zach Wamp was a popular eight-term congressman first elected to represent Tennessee’s Third District, which includes Oak Ridge, in 1994.
Weston Wamp said his father took a lot of pride in the work that occurred in Oak Ridge, and the federal mission tripled in size during his 16 years. He said the district’s representative should be able to effectively advocate for missions here, including for the scientific research that occurs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the modernization work under way at Y-12.
Wamp said he learned “endless lessons” from the campaign two years ago against Fleischmann in the Republican primary. He said he and dairy executive Scottie Mayfield had a similar message in that campaign and ending up splitting the vote, combining for about 60 percent of the vote.
Mayfield, president emeritus at Mayfield Dairy Farms, finished second in the 2012 Republican primary, but he is not running this year. Instead, he has endorsed Fleischmann’s re-election campaign and been named honorary chairman.
“Since the election almost two years ago, Chuck has been in contact with me on a few issues that he felt I could have knowledgeable input,” Mayfield said in a press release from the Fleischmann campaign on Monday. “He listened and was appreciative of my opinion. I have appreciated his work ethic and think he has done a good job in light of the circumstances in Washington. I believe he is the best man to represent the Third District of Tennessee in Congress.”
Wamp said it is difficult to challenge an incumbent, but it’s a “very different scenario” than two years ago.
Wamp is a founding director and communications and marketing director for Lamp Post Group, a venture capital company in Chattanooga. He thinks his entrepreneurial background in the technology industry will help him bring new ways of thinking to Congress. He said he would be the first millennial conservative in Congress. His generation, one of the largest in American history, wants to help fix partisanship, Wamp said.
“Too often, we have become the party of naysayers,” Wamp said of Republicans. “I think there is a different, better model for what the conservative model can look like, and it doesn’t have to be as negative. We should advocate small, limited government—effective government.”
Wamp called himself a reform-minded candidate who draws inspiration from Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, and he said he will re-mold his campaign platform from two years ago. Oak Ridge needs independent thought leadership, Wamp said.
He said many residents in the Third District, especially young people, are concerned about having good jobs. Wamp said he will represent everybody, and he wants to spend at least half of his time outside his home county before the Aug. 7 Republican primary, finding people where they are.
“That’s the side of this that I enjoy the most,” Wamp said. “We’ll be all over the place.”
The Third District stretches across East Tennessee from Claiborne County in the north to Hamilton County in the south and includes many rural areas, as well as Oak Ridge, Chattanooga, and Cleveland.
Patrick Murphy, a Florida Democrat, is currently the youngest member of Congress. He was a 29-year-old political newcomer when elected in November 2012 and turns 31 this year. Wamp could become the youngest representative if elected and if no one else who is younger wins in any of the other congressional districts across the country. Representatives have to be at least 25.