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December 5, 2011

The Sixth District Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Speculating over the political future of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R., MD 6) has fast become a routine spectator sport. It's just too juicy to ignore, the idea the 10-term congressman might be vulnerable after two decades of electoral dominance.


Dr. Bartlett rode into office thanks to Tom Hattery's brutal Democrat primary campaign against former Rep. Beverly Byron in 1992.


Disclosure statement: I have always held Mrs. Byron in the highest of esteem. She, more than most, seems to me to represent the highest standards of integrity and honor throughout her service, following the legendary legacy of her late husband and congressional predecessor Goodloe.


Former state Del. Hattery had other ideas. He ran some cheap-shot commercials highlighting junket trips Mrs. Bryon took, creating the false impression that she was a jet-setting vacationer on the public dole. She wasn't.


His strategy worked, at least temporarily. He narrowly defeated the great lady in the primary, only to be taken out in the General Election by Mr. Bartlett. Representative Bartlett ran a non-traditional campaign. He promised to be a different kind of congressman, a fighter for fiscal discipline and traditional family values reflecting the will of western Maryland voters.


He has been true to his word, at least by most accounts.


A recurring criticism of Roscoe is that he reneged on a promise to only serve two terms, something every Democrat that has ever run against him repeats like a mantra. One problem: that's not what he said.


The promise Mr. Bartlett made was to only serve two terms if Congress were to pass a balanced budget. Ignoring the fact that this is like promising to only serve two terms if pigs fly, he did not make an unconditional promise to walk away after four years in Congress.


So, fast forward to the current political environment. Mr. Bartlett has coasted to relatively easy elections the last few cycles. He doesn't have to raise a lot of money because he doesn't have to spend much. His name recognition throughout the whole district is strong, and his loyalty number is also high.


Ask a bunch of Sixth District voters how they feel about Congress. They'll say: "Throw the bums out". Ask them about Roscoe Bartlett, and they'll say: "He's a quirky old dude, but I kinda like him."


Call that a recipe for re-election!


Well, it used to be a recipe for re-election. Gov. Martin O'Malley and the overwhelmingly Democrat majority in the Maryland General Assembly have concocted a plan to change all of that. Employing one of the most irresponsible redistricting maps in the recorded annals of gerrymandering, Governor O'Malley and crew have thrown a huge slug of Democrat voters into what used to be a predictably GOP district.


Lumping Rockville and Gaithersburg with Hagerstown and Cumberland into one congressional district is such a stupid idea that only a rabid partisan could have dreamed it up.


So, now we have a congressional district that slightly favors a candidate that appeals to voters in Montgomery County, although not exclusively.


There was a time when some felt that this Sixth District seat was being held for Rep. Bartlett's son Joe. He served three terms in the Maryland House of Delegates and always made clear his future intentions in regards to his father's seat.


Joe took himself out of politics, likely to avoid being shown the door by voters. A self-imposed departure is easier on the mind than an electoral rejection.


The aspirant's inside Dr. Bartlett's inner circle are not restricted to his own family. His longtime chief of staff, Harold "Bud" Otis, was reported to have been building a potential GOP loyalty base just in case Dr. Bartlett backed out.


The Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported that Mr. Otis was soliciting potential supporters and donors unbeknownst to his boss. More recent reports in The Frederick News-Post indicates that Representative Bartlett may have known his aide was out testing the waters for a future bid, but wasn't aware of just how far and how wide that test went. Regardless, it was a stupid move from a normally shrewd political operator, and one that has now resulted in his resignation, punishment for the sin of political disloyalty.


No one should be surprised by Bud Otis' actions. He's always acted like a shadow congressman, typically behaving in a manner that suggested he should be shown respect for the mere fact that he gets to whisper in the ear of our representative.


Frankly, Mr. Otis' actions always seemed questionable, if not downright inappropriate. Now Mr. Otis proves his outsized ambitions by secretly building a case to replace his boss, while his boss gives every impression he plans to run himself.


Former State Senator and current state GOP chairman, Alex Mooney, has also never hidden his own aspirations to replace his former boss. He once served as a chauffeur for Roscoe, so I suppose that automatically qualifies him for Congress.


Given the current state of gridlock and ineptitude in the United States House of Representatives, why not send Mr. Mooney to Capitol Hill? He has proven that:



Sounds like a model congressman! No doubt House Republicans would relish one more obstructionist in the mix, another loyal voice to join the Hallelujah chorus. Now Mr. Mooney is gearing up behind the scenes, preparing for Representative Bartlett to retire.


If he starts raising money (and he no doubt already has), then he should immediately resign his position as Maryland GOP Chairman. The party leadership should remove him from office if he doesn't.


In Part Two tomorrow, we'll take a look at the prospects of a Democrat serving the Sixth, and study the best solution out there for Sixth District voters.


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