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September 16, 2003

Who Will Succeed Roscoe?

John P. Snyder

It was hardly earth shattering news. State's Attorney Scott Rolle mentioned that he would be interested in running for Roscoe Bartlett Sixth Congressional seat.

Along with the news of his intentions, the focus has shifted to when Representative Bartlett will step down and who will succeed him. There's plenty of room for speculation, since no one knows when Roscoe will step aside. And no one knows for sure who wants to enter the fray to replace him.

Veteran Republicans will recall the Lincoln Day dinner held in March 1990 at the then Peter Pan Restaurant in Urbana. The speaker that night was one Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA.). He was on a mission to build a Republican majority in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Today it seems like the Republicans controlling the House as the way it has always been. In 1990, Mr. Gingrich's dream seemed like the largest of pipe dreams.

Representative Gingrich challenged the assembled GOPers to unseat the popular incumbent Beverly Byron. "Sure she is a great lady, and she votes with us most of the time," he said "but she helps keep the very liberal House leadership in power."

Back then it seemed that Beverly Byron was unbeatable. No one in the room imagined that the heavy work of ousting her would be done by a Democrat in 1992. Enter one Tom Hattery.

"Taxing' Tom Hattery had a pretty efficient organization that energized those Democrats that felt Representative Byron had become too conservative. Many will recall his effective radio campaign that was an audio carpet bomb on her candidacy. It accused her of being out of touch and comfortable taking junkets whenever available.

His attacks took hold. The Byron campaign was ambushed. And by the time they decided to fight back it was too late. Mr. Hattery won 53-47%.

Mr. Hattery's campaign, which looked so unstoppable in the primary, was a disaster. He misread the mood of the 6th District, mistaking it for a liberal enclave enamored with Bill Clinton.

While the rest of the state was going ga-ga for Mr. Clinton, the 6th district was going for Bush/Bartlett.

Arriving two years before the Gingrich revolution of 1994, Roscoe has never wavered from his conservative underpinning. Republicans never have had to worry that his votes would go against their grain. His conservative ratings always remained the highest in the House.

But now the dynamics have changed. Parris Glendening enduring legacy, aside from being a jerk and an incurable liberal, was the redistricting that cut the Republican House seats from 4 to 2.

Maryland Republicans are intent on leading the state out of the dismal one party state darkness. For that they need bench strength. They need to groom future governor and Senate candidates to keep the momentum going. Roscoe Bartlett is an appealing elected official, for the 6th district only. An energetic, mainstream Republican, young enough to be ambitious, would be helpful to the party's future. From the 6th district a solid statewide candidacy, like Charles Mc. Mathias, could be launched.

State's Attorney Scott Rolle would fill that role nicely. So would Ilona Hogan, Dave Lenhart and Rick Weldon. David Brinkley fits the bill, but his services are needed in Annapolis.

Representative Bartlett has mentioned that he would like to see his son, Del. Joseph Bartlett, succeed him.

Many Republicans bristle at the thought that a Congressional seat is to be handed to someone because he is related to the incumbent. And while Joe Bartlett is the nicest of fellows, it always appears that he is in politics at the behest of his parents.

There is no sign that a decision is imminent. For all we know, Roscoe Bartlett may be intending to be the Maryland version of 100-year-old former Senator Strom Thurmond.

Let's hope not. Should he decide to retire, there are some good candidates ready to roll.

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