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October 7, 2011

Killing Roscoe Bartlett

Roy Meachum

Virginia Democrats may be howling more than Maryland Democrats! Since the house with the yellow door sits on this side of the Potomac, I don’t know. Many of my local friends who wear blue are beside themselves — their favorite position. The cause of their woes comes every 10 years when state legislatures are required to reshape congressional districts.


The party in power does everything it can to strengthen its power. Having gained ascendency in the lower house, Virginia Republicans hope to stage a coup d’état in the Senate. With voter registrations overwhelming in their favor, Maryland Democrats mean to snip in the bud “uppity” GOP officeholders.


For whatever reason, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett tops their hit list. He first appeared on ballots in 1980 and was demolished by Sen. Charles (Mac) Mathias. The next election he didn’t make a serious dent in Democratic Rep. Beverly Byron’s triumph. In 1992, she lost the primary to Del. Tom Hattery — no mean feat; the seat had long accommodated the family the CBS executive’s daughter she married into. But Ms. Byron gave it up because of her haughtiness and rudeness to the electorate. “Landslide” Bartlett garnered 54 percent.


The incumbent congressman promised the initial round to run a single additional time, as Frederick News-Post Letters to the Editor remind him. That was nearly 20 years ago. The first few terms went swimmingly when Gregg Cox was in charge of his office, but the original chief of staff left for a high-ranked civil service post with the Defense Department.


On Mr. Cox’s departure, Harold F. (Bud) Otis, Jr., took over. His strongest credential apparently was that he shared Mr. Bartlett’s Seventh-day Adventist membership. Before being summoned to Capitol Hill, he was president of the church’s Family Enrichment Resources, infamous within Seventh-day Adventist circles for producing and selling a videotape Biblical series. Coming off a controversial and troubled stewardship, Mr. Otis markedly restricted access to his boss.


During my Washington years, I saw this frequently. In order to keep their jobs, Capitol Hill staffs shut off elected officials from most matters the employees choose to ignore. In every instance, the representative or senator was defeated at the polls, sooner or later. But I’m sure “Bud” Otis has his retirement well planned.


Since Roscoe Bartlett seems destined to follow the losers, you might very well wonder why state Democrats chose him as a target. After all, with former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Daugherty as the party’s nominee, the congressman drew 58.18 percent the lowest support in the last five elections. For Ms. Dougherty this made the fifth loss at the ballot box, broken up with her gaining City Hall in a year when opposing forces were in great disarray.


Despite the wholesale scalping GOP candidates enjoyed in 2010, Representative Bartlett staggered on to victory over “gimme” competition. His prospects in 2012 look very dim at best, made dimmer by the Democrats carving the Sixth District in such a way that part of “liberal” Montgomery County figures to make up a substantial share of his Congressional district.


In politics, the maxim is strong: When you figure the other party might be vulnerable, make sure they’re dead. Kill them again if the scintilla of hope remains in the body politic. This applies to both Democrats and Republicans, as we see across the Potomac.


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