HAGERSTOWN -- Just as the scrambled eggs on the plates at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast were getting a bit cold yesterday, Thomas Hattery tried to heat up the race in the 6th Congressional District.
The Democratic state delegate from Frederick charged that Roscoe Bartlett, his Republican opponent, had taken more than $5,000 from the federal government for not growing crops on his Frederick County farm -- even though he's been campaigning against federal farm-subsidy programs. Mr. Hattery unleashed the attack during an early morning debate after Mr. Bartlett had answered a question about the country's infrastructure by calling for less regulation and more private enterprise.
"Every time Washington gets involved with helping an industry, you can count on the bureaucrats making a mess of it," Mr. Bartlett told the crowd.
"It's really incredible," Mr. Hattery said in reply.
"I have heard over and over during the campaign Mr. Bartlett talking about getting government out of our lives, out of business, how it shouldn't play a role.
"And I agree we need to cut back on the size of government, but Mr. Bartlett has been spreading a lot of misinformation.
"He has said he wants to get the federal government out of the agricultural business, no more 'ag' subsidies. And, by his own financial accounting, he's a multimillionaire, and yet he's taken over $5,000 from the federal government, from the taxpayers, for not planting his fields.
"This is an area where you have a choice of working hard, tilling the soil and taking your product out into the free enterprise system, but he chose to sit on his duff and take the money from the taxpayers. I challenge him to give the $5,000 back to the taxpayers."
Mr. Bartlett replied that Mr. Hattery had "gone back 10 or 15 years to look at something that happened when I was living almost hand to mouth . . . I have always cooperated with the government in trying to reduce output so that prices would come up. I don't know the details of what he is talking about, but I will tell you that I have been a responsible, hard-working part of the system."
Mr. Bartlett then reiterated his opposition to agricultural-subsidy payments, saying, "It is almost like a person hooked on dope, and to get off of that they need a gradual withdrawal."
The debate has been heated in the 6th District, where Mr. Hattery and Mr. Bartlett are vying for a seat that opened up when Mr. Hattery upset longtime Democratic incumbent Beverly B. Byron in the primary.
At a news conference after the debate, Mr. Hattery produced documents showing that Mr. Bartlett got payments totaling $5,216.12 in 1987, 1988 and 1989 for not growing corn, barley and wheat. He said the documents are part of the public record that his campaign examined after hearing Mr. Bartlett oppose agricultural subsidies.
"I'm not making any accusations about legality, I'm saying it's hypocritical," Mr. Hattery said. "He sets a different standard for himself than for everyone else."
Later, the Bartlett campaign issued a statement acknowledging that, after the candidate had bought a farm in 1987, he had continued the previous owner's practice of participating in the subsidy program.
The Bartlett forces then reiterated their charges that Mr. Hattery had padded his legislative expense account in Annapolis.
Mr. Hattery circulated an editorial from a Carroll County newspaper that called the expense account attack "without foundation," but he denied that his farm-subsidy charge was a matter of political tit-for-tat.
"This is a totally separate issue from those bogus charges of criminal activity," Mr. Hattery said, calling Mr. Bartlett "a proven liar" for making them.