Bartlett has high hopes Freshman aspires to powerful House committees

December 06, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Don't expect Roscoe G. Bartlett to play at being a humble, obscure freshman.

Why should he? He and 109 others in the largest freshman class since 1949 have swept into Congress on the promise of change. They want to leave a mark.

With a newcomer's enthusiasm, Mr. Bartlett, a Frederick Republican from Maryland's 6th District, is seeking a spot on one of the most powerful committees in the House -- the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The voice of experience of Republican Helen Delich Bentley, who has represented Maryland's 2nd District since 1985, says seniority is everything and he hasn't a chance.

She said it's more likely Mr. Bartlett would be appointed to Armed Services or Agriculture, two committees he said he is also interested in joining.

Last week, he took his high aims and expectations to Washington as he attended his first class on Capitol Hill: Congress 101.

During orientation sessions sponsored by House leaders, he listened to lectures about financial disclosure, mailing privileges, hiring staff and other practical matters.

He also met most of the 46 other Republican freshmen, posed for a group picture on the Capitol steps and lobbied for committee appointments. They will be sworn in Jan. 5.

"There's just so many rules. It's like going through a minefield," Mr. Bartlett said Thursday morning on the third day of orientation.

Switching metaphors, he added, "Everything is visible now, it's like living in a fishbowl."

The retired teacher, farmer and inventor who has never held political office said he hadn't been surprised by anything because he did a lot of reading before going to Washington.

Mr. Bartlett is not alone as a political neophyte. Twenty-six other freshman have never held office.

At age 66, he is the oldest freshman Republican. The distinction earned him an interview on NBC's "Today" show with the youngest freshman Republican -- Richard W. Pombo, 31, of California.

Flipping through a book of photos and brief biographies of new members, Mr. Bartlett stopped at page 25 and remarked that he has three children older than Peter Hoekstra, a 39-year-old Michigan Republican. He said John Linder of Georgia reminded him of Fred MacMurray, the actor who played the father on the TV show "My Three Sons."

Mr. Bartlett's wife, Ellen, attended orientation sessions with the spouses of other new members. The sessions were not about "how to pour tea," she said, they were about the "substance" of being in Congress.

Asked what her role will be, Mrs. Bartlett, the mother of 10 and a former executive secretary, said her husband could not hire her as a staff member because rules prohibit it. But she intends to be involved.

"I tell people we're a pair, and they say 'bartlett' is a pear," she said.

Mr. Bartlett and two of his staffers also attended sessions sponsored by the Republican Party. The topic of one was "The Democrats Are Watching: What Not to Say and Do."

Mr. Bartlett will replace Beverly B. Byron, a seven-term incumbent Democrat from Frederick who was defeated in the March primary by state Del. Thomas H. Hattery, D-Frederick. Last week, her staffers were packing boxes. They plan to close the Washington office Dec. 11.

Mrs. Byron and Mr. Bartlett have talked by phone, but no meetings to discuss the transition are planned, her spokesman, Marc Ehudin, said.

Mrs. Byron has not said what she will do when she leaves office.

In addition to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Mr. Bartlett also would like a seat on the Joint Economic Committee, which studies economic policy and makes recommendations. It has 10 Democratic and 10 Republican members.

Jim Lafferty, Mr. Bartlett's spokesman, was the committee's press secretary in the early 1980s.

Rep. Richard Armey of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the freshman has a good chance of getting a seat on the Joint Economic Committee.

"He's a character," Mr. Armey said of Mr. Bartlett. "The man knows who he is. He understands what he would like to achieve. He's got a lot of energy.

Mr. Armey and Mr. Bartlett have developed a "kinship," said Pat Shortridge, Mr. Armey's press secretary. Mr. Armey, 52, a former college professor, had never held office before he was elected to Congress in 1984.

Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, who represents Maryland's 1st District, said he will talk with Mr. Bartlett about committee assignments this week.

"I'm going to help Roscoe as much as I can," said Mr. Gilchrest, a House member since last year.

Republican Constance A. Morella, who has represented Maryland's 8th District since 1987, said she thinks members of Congress will want to accommodate freshmen requests for committee assignments.

The Committee on Committees, which makes recommendations, will be formed Monday, she said.

She has offered to help Mr. Bartlett get acclimated to Washington.

"I think he brings a kind of sense of maturity. He's done a lot of things professionally. I think he'll pace himself and not let it overwhelm him. He seems to have an inner tranquillity," she said.

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