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January 24, 2012

Capitol Hill Daze

Roy Meachum

Democratic candidate Tom Hattery’s mean attitude had much to do with pushing him away, from me and the electorate; that was 20 years ago when the thought of Beverly Byron losing was almost unthinkable. Mr. Hattery’s primary win was at least shocking to many.


In fact, Mrs. Byron had removed herself to an Olympian cloud. Her manner in dealing with voters could be described as “regal;” she “allowed” her staff to deal with more mundane stuff – letters and complaints involving government, taxes, immigration and various other matters. She was simply too busy as a congressman sitting on committees and boards of directors, especially that for the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Hattery proved how the Byron myth was overstated.


Leading up to 1992, Frederick lay in the world that conservative Democrats dominated. GOP member Roscoe Bartlett came along with his science Ph. D. and independent wealth garnered from patents of his inventions. The first time I met Roscoe was in Winchester Hall. publisher/editor John Ashbury and I were invited to judge a candidates’ debate. As I recall John was then a nominal Democrat; he switched parties shortly afterwards. At the same time, the county woke up to a changed reality.


Political boss James E. “Doc” McClellan retired under the threat posed by Republican Anita Stup who switched Winchester Hall for the House of Delegates; she was very much supported by Representative Bartlett. He thrived best when Gregg Cox was his chief of staff; he treated his boss as human, capable of frailties and faults. I recall no apologies Mr. Cox offered; there was none needed.


But his successor, Harold “Bud” Otis, a fellow Seventh-day Adventist, constantly deferred to Dr. Bartlett, elevating him far above the “unruly mob” – Sixth District residents. Press liaison Lisa Wright fully participated in the campaign. The congressman was in danger of permitting himself to become isolated, as was Mrs. Byron, in her turn. Several years ago, at the Barley & Hops restaurant, I tried to point out what was happening. His reply was along the lines that he always came to my house when invited. He completely missed the point. Wife Ellen Bartlett shut down his email address, adding very much to the withdrawal; she came up with answers that generally consisted of the chief of staff’s loyalty and church membership.


What looks from here like a mortal danger to the congressman’s tenure came with the Democrats’ 10-year drawing of new congressional districts, aimed primarily at his Republican seat. Dr. Bartlett hesitated, leading to speculation that he had decided to retire rather than face state Sen. Robert Garagiola: the lines were reportedly selected specifically to favor the Germantown resident. In the gap generated entirely by the incumbent several competitors emerged.


The most surprising was “Bud” Otis. Instantly he was accused of easing his boss out. Bartlett protégé and former employee Alex Mooney formed an explorative committee, so did state Sen. David Brinkley. For his tentative steps, Mr. Otis was fired, supposedly under pressure from Mrs. Bartlett, aided and abetted by Republican State Central Committee chairman Mooney. The pair is held responsible for the 20-year congressman running again. The advisers who encouraged him to stay the primary are accused of personal motives, none benefiting in any way the man who broke the conservative Democratic dominance of Western Maryland.


This time it must be without this column’s support. From my Washington experience, I know my old friend has overextended his Capitol Hill stay; it’s time for Roscoe Bartlett to move on.


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