Rolle abandons politics for TV

For Scott Rolle, a key figure in the Frederick County GOP for two decades, the question is no longer to run or not to run

  • The cast of the History Channel's "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" includes (left to right) Scott Rolle, Brad Meltzer, Christine McKinley and Buddy Levy.
The cast of the History Channel's "Brad Meltzer's… (Handout photo )
December 10, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

Scott Rolle fell 1,305 votes short of winning a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates last month. But don't look for him to demand a recount or vow to run again in four years. In fact, don't look for the former Frederick County state's attorney and Maryland attorney general candidate to ever run for office again.

Not that he's bitter, or disappointed, or tired of politics. He's just too busy being a TV star.

"It's sort of a Cinderella story, but really exciting for a guy from Frederick," Rolle says of his burgeoning television career, which over the past two weeks has had him searching for the cornerstone of the White House and investigating a possible murder disguised as a suicide.

Earlier this month, Rolle, 49, a longtime figure in Frederick County politics, made his TV debut on the cable History channel's "Brad Meltzer's Decoded." The show, airing Thursday nights at 10, features Rolle as one of a trio of intrepid investigators poring over America's hidden mysteries. In the show's debut, they tried to track down the missing 200-year-old slab of concrete, missing almost since the day it was laid during an elaborate Masonic ceremony at the White House in 1792. Last week, they poked around the reported suicide (and possible murder) of explorer Meriwether Lewis in 1809.

While novelist Meltzer gets his name attached to the show and offers up breathless introductions to each segment, the legwork is done by a trio of history sleuths brought together for the show. Buddy Levy is a freelance journalist and an English professor at Washington State University. Christine McKinley is a mechanical engineer living in Los Angeles who moonlights as a singer/songwriter.

And then there's Rolle, whose History bio notes that he's a trial attorney and Army reservist. On the show, he's cast as the resident skeptic, refusing to believe everything he's told and always urging his teammates to reserve judgment until all the facts come in. If that sounds like what trial lawyers are always telling juries — well, now you understand one reason why Rolle was picked for this team.

"We really needed someone who was going to be the skeptic," says David McKillop, History's senior vice president for programming and development. "We needed someone who's smart, who's a trained attorney who knows what kinds of questions to ask, doesn't take no for an answer and can't be dissuaded by fast-talking con men."

Rolle, who's back at his Frederick law practice after filming the series' 10 episodes, says his experience as a trial lawyer and political candidate makes him a perfect fit for the show. "I love history," he says. "I like investigating, I like questioning people. These are all things that I've done. And I like adventure. ... They've certainly sent us out on some adventures."

Rolle has had his share of adventures in Frederick County, beginning with a stint on the Republican Central Committee from 1990 to 1994 and including three terms as state's attorney. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004 and, two years later, was the Republican nominee for state attorney general. He lost to Democrat Douglas F. Gansler.

This year, Rolle was primed for another run at elective office, filing for delegate in Frederick County's District 3A. But in July, less than a month after announcing his candidacy, Rolle dropped out of the race, opting instead to try his hand at the History channel gig.

He still finished second, just nine votes ahead of Chris Huckenpoehler, an I.T. worker living in Frederick. The top two finishers in the primary went on to the general election.

Rolle's decision to continue with the race, telling reporters he hoped to be one of the first politicians to win elective office without spending any money, didn't sit well with some members of the GOP.

"We wish he would have stepped out and allowed the next person to run for that seat," said Chuck Gast, first vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. An earlier decision "would have allowed us to maybe put forward another candidate who would have been willing to put forward some effort in the race."

Despite not actively running, Rolle nearly came in second in the general election, losing to Democrat Galen Clagett and Republican Patrick Hogan. "If he had campaigned, I believe he would have won the seat," Gast said.

Still, Rolle insists he's had enough of running for office. "Life has times when it tells you, 'OK, that part's done, let's see what's next,'" he says. "It's told me that."

And for Rolle, performing seems to be what's next. He got his first taste about five years ago when he and his daughter earned spots in a dinner-theater production of " It's a Wonderful Life." Since then, he has continued performing in community-theater productions. If "Decoded" succeeds, he looks forward to sticking with the show. If it doesn't, he hopes some more TV jobs will follow; if not, he can devote more time to his law practice.

"I just believe so much in — I guess 'fate' is the word," Rolle says. "I believe you end up where you're supposed to be."

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