Once home to a political dynasty, 6th district now a host to mudslinging

October 05, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

A story in Monday's editions stated incorrectly that members of the Byron family had held the 6th District congressional seat for the past 50 years. In fact, it has been in that family for 26 of the past 54 years -- four years between 1939 and 1943 and continuously since the 1970 election of Goodloe E. Byron, who was succeeded upon his death by his wife, Beverly B. Byron.

The Sun regrets the errors.

One is an earnest young farmer, publisher and politician who sincerely thinks he can better people's lives by devoting his own to public service.

The other is a thoughtful retired teacher, researcher, farmer and builder who thinks the country is on the wrong track and wants, at this stage of his life, to do what he can to correct it.


So why are Tom Hattery and Roscoe Bartlett saying such horrible things about each other?

Indeed, if you believe the rhetoric coming out of the campaign for the 6th District congressional seat, this is not a race between two honorable men hoping to become a servant of the people, but a name-calling contest between an embezzling cheat and a hypocritical liar.

Hidden beneath the mud they're flinging is a contest between men of subtly but fundamentally different political philosophies, trying to appeal to voters in a district changed by new maps and new voters.

The 6th District reaches closest to Baltimore in Howard County where, in a bit of redistricting that resembles the work of a jigsaw artist, it circles Columbia before heading west to take in all of Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegheny and Garrett counties.

For more than half a century, this seat has been in the hands of the Byron family, most recently represented by conservative Democrat Beverly Byron, who took over when her husband, Goodloe, died in office in 1978. Both Mr. Goodloe's father and mother had held the seat before he did.

Mrs. Byron easily fended off earlier challenges -- including one from Mr. Hattery in the 1980 primary and another from Mr. Bartlett, a Republican, in 1982. But Mr. Hattery, a state delegate from Frederick country, toppled the Byron dynasty by beating her in March's Democratic primary.

There are many explanations for Mrs. Byron's defeat -- including this year's anti-incumbent mood and a stinging, negative campaign by Mr. Hattery. But some of it must be chalked up to the changing nature of the district.

Though its acreage is still predominantly rural and agricultural, its residents are increasingly suburban. Just take a look at what was once pasture off I-70 just east of Frederick. The cows grazing in the fields now are made of plywood, targets for patrons of that quintessentially suburban establishment -- the golf driving range.

In Howard, many commute to jobs in Baltimore and Washington. Frederick and the communities along I-270 to the south provide bedrooms for people working in Washington and it suburbs.

These suburban voters are the battleground this year. They provided Republicans with the majorities that put them in the White House for the last 12 years, but they appear to be swinging to the Democrats this year. Their fickle political loyalties will be critical to the outcome of the 6th District race.

In some ways, Mr. Hattery represents the vanguard of these demographic changes. The 38-year-old delegate was born in Silver Spring but moved as a youngster to a Frederick county farm near Mount Airy as his father, a professor of public administration at American University in Washington, endured the commute in exchange for the bucolic life.

Mr. Hattery graduated from American, had several staff positions on Capitol Hill, then returned to his family farm and publishing business and launched his political career. An unsuccessful run for Mrs. Byron's seat at the age of 26 was followed by a successful race for state delegate two years later. He's been in Annapolis for a decade.

"I found myself becoming more and more interested in the issues," Mr. Hattery said of the beginnings of his political career during an interview at his storefront campaign headquarters in a new brick shopping center just outside Frederick. "I didn't know if I could be successful in politics, but I wanted to contribute something."

Mr. Hattery has kept a fairly low profile in Annapolis. He points to his sponsorship of legislation on the Job Training Partnership Act and legislation on missing children as his two most important accomplishments in the House of Delegates.

He is clearly a candidate who feels that government can, and should, make a difference in the lives of his district's residents.

"I'm for less government. I'm for downsizing. I think the bureaucracy has gotten bloated and too expensive. But at the same time, I think that there are areas where we can make government work for people again and where we need to make the government work for the people.

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