Mildred opens early for Joe the Plumber

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The political figure known as Joe the Plumber is scheduled to be in Lewisburg on Thursday to endorse a Murfreesboro Republican campaigning to be the GOP candidate for Congress.

Mildred's Restaurant, 532 North Ellington Parkway, is where Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, 36, of Ohio, is to appear at 9:15 a.m. to endorse Lou Ann Zelenik's campaign to succeed U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Murfreesboro).

Mildred McNatt identifies with the man known as Joe the Plumber, saying she knows a little bit about the plumber who became a national political figure nearly two years ago when he met then-Sen. Barack Obama on the campaign trail in Ohio.

"I don't know much about Joe the Plumber -- just that he's a good guy, just like me, trying to make a living," says Mildred McNatt, 58, co-owner of Mildred's Restaurant on Ellington Parkway where, on Thursday, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, 36, of Ohio, is to be endorsing Lou Ann Zelenik for the GOP nomination to run for Congress.

The Republican Primary is Aug. 5.

Wurzelbacher became famous during the 2008 presidential election when he asked Obama about small businesses taxes. His views on free enterprise clash with those of Obama. Wurzelbacher was dubbed by the McCain-Palin campaign as Joe the Plumber. He was a plumbing contractor's employee who became a commentator, writer, speaker and now a guest at Mildred's Restaurant.

"Joe the Plumber has come to personify the American spirit of hard work and individual responsibility," Zelenik said in her announcement that Wurzelbacher is campaigning for her in Tennessee's 6th Congressional District.

Mildred's Restaurant usually opens for lunch at 10:30 a.m., but Thursday, it's opening at 9 a.m. for Zelenik's campaign.

Mildred, 58, and her husband, Jeff McNatt, run their restaurant here and another Mildred's Restaurant in Fayetteville. Humble and unassuming, Mildred has owned and operated other restaurants. She's a former employee of the Heil-Quaker air conditioning and heating factory that became International Comfort Products. Several years ago, when ICP moved production jobs to Mexico and other Tennessee counties, more than 2,000 people lost their jobs here. Nearly 800 were Marshall County residents.

A few years later, on Veterans Day in 2008, leaders of the Sanford Corp. told the mayors of Lewisburg and Marshall County and other officials in the Chamber of Commerce office that they'd be closing a long-time pencil factory here. Nearly 350 people lost jobs. Some of Sanford's art pencils are made in South America. While some Sharpie pen brand jobs remain in Shelbyville, Sanford selected Manchester for an ink factory that could have been located here. Land was free for Sanford in Coffee County.

"I just don't do much politics," Mildred said. "I let other people do their thing and I just go on. I do vote."

She declined to say who's received her votes in any election.

Mildred lives in Lincoln County so she doesn't know the five candidates for sheriff here, but she knows Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder as a "good guy" because "I've known his family for a long time. I've known his mother and daddy...

"They just had a rally for him in the ballpark" at Fayetteville.

Mildred didn't go because she was working.

"I work all the time. I'm just a little small town person who's willing to meet someone influential," Mildred said Sunday afternoon when asked about Zelenik's campaign stop in Lewisburg.

"The lady called me at the restaurant and said someone recommended my place as a place to do this," Mildred said. "I don't remember who she said she was. I just wrote it down on the calendar by the register.

"We'll just be open at 9 for them," she said. "We'll have coffee and cake, something sweet."

Mildred's husband normally opens the restaurant at 10:30 a.m. Then, he'd go to work at Goodman Manufacturing in Fayetteville where he's a group leader on the second shift at the HVAC plant.

"If Joe the Plumber's going to be here on Thursday, I'm sure she'll be here," Jeff McNatt said Saturday afternoon.

So, what's Jeff's impression of Wurzelbacher?

"I guess he's just like me or you," Jeff said. "He's an American. I haven't heard anthing from him since the electon."

Zelenik said Wurzelbacher "recognized the socialist ideology of Barack Obama well before many others had caught on... His support of my campaign means a lot to me, personally, and reflects the broad, mainstream conservative appeal that this campaign is having."

The 6th Congressional District seat has been held for nearly 26 years by Bart Gordon. The Murfreesboro Democrat is not running for re-election. Zelenik is a Murfreesboro businesswoman, former chairman of the Rutherford County GOP and a leader in Tea Party movement in Middle Tennessee.

"I first met Lou Ann at a Tea Party in Tennessee," Wurzelbacher said in Zelenik's press release. "Right away, I could tell she has a passion to serve her fellow man. You don't find many people out there that remember and understand your first duty as an elected public servant is to the people. I know that Lou Ann will represent the people of Tennessee to Washington, and not Washington to the people of Tennessee."

Mildred says she hopes that Zelenik and Wurzelbacher will eat some of the food she'll have ready at her restaurant at 9 a.m. Thursday.

As for whether she knew who Zelenik is, she said, "I had never heard of her, not that I know of."

But she'd heard of Joe the Plumber, but didn't know who he was.

"I just stick to my self," Mildred said. "When you own a restaurant, you work all the time."

Told that she'd be photographed for this story on Monday, Mildred replied, "I'm just me. You'll see me the way I am. I'm just the same ol' me all the time."