Bartlett's Rocky Rookie Run

June 29, 1993

During his first six months in office, freshman Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has received a great deal of unwelcome publicity for a raft of verbal blunders and his outspoken conservative zealotry. Such notoriety has given him a higher profile than most freshmen, but it also may be the undoing of his political career.

Democrats have taken delight in criticizing the Sixth District representative, who represents western Howard County, Carroll County and Western Maryland, for his remark that the preponderence of state scholarship winners -- many of them Asian-Americans -- didn't have "normal" names. He also has taken flak for refusing to sign a letter from the Maryland delegation requesting federal funds to help pay the costs of clean-up from the Blizzard of '93.

Most interesting, though is that the sniping is now coming from an unexpected quarter -- members of his own party, including his former campaign chairman, Larry J. Hogan Sr. Republicans regulars are deserting him in droves. Several are exploring the possibility of challenging him in next year's primary. Party members fear that they may lose the seat back to the Democrats, who held it for decades.

While Mr. Bartlett's congressional votes are in keeping with the conservative political sentiments of much of his district, he has committed a politician's cardinal sin: He has embarrassed the people who voted him into office. His buffoonery makes his constituents look bad by association. They want to be proud of the person they have elected to Congress, and right now they are ashamed.

One can admire the fact that Mr. Bartlett holds fast to his views (even if we disagree with many of them), with apparent little regard to solidifying his tenure in Congress. Such sentiment in that institution is rare. Nevertheless, the trick is to make one's politics the issue, not one's competence. Mr. Bartlett's inexperienced staff continues to lurch from crisis to crisis. Constituent mail goes unanswered. Phone calls aren't returned in a timely fashion. Mr. Bartlett has replaced Timothy Woodford as his top aide after several displays of inappropriate behavior and no apparent managerial skills.

Mr. Bartlett has dug himself into this political hole and he seems determined to reject the counsel of his Republican supporters. If he wants more than the proverbial "15 minutes of fame," he will have to find a way to make peace with his former supporters.

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