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Six years later, DeArmon again banks on Capitol Hill savvy to defeat Bartlett

February 10, 2000

Never say never, unless you're prepared to talk about why you're heading down a road you said you'd never travel.

For Don DeArmon, Democratic candidate for the Sixth Congressional District, the turnabout issue is the Political Action Committee money he said in 1994 he'd never take, but which he now says he can't win without.

Six years ago, the 44-year-old Frederick native finished fifth in the Democratic primary, with just 6 percent of the vote, despite walking more than 200 miles across the district.

"Our race ended up being about resources. We finished precisely in the order of the money raised," he said.

DeArmon said that despite what he felt was a very targeted message and what he believed was enough cash to get that story out, it wasn't enough.

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The first question from most reporters, DeArmon said, was " 'How much money have you raised?' You have to demonstrate early on that you're a serious candidate."

If it's one thing that DeArmon is serious about, it's the legislative process. He's spent two decades working on Capitol Hill, for bosses ranging from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Now, as he did in 1994, he sees incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Sixth, as disengaged from the process of lawmaking, more ready to record a quick "no" vote than to improve bad legislation by offering amendments.

Bartlett's "no" vote on the latest omnibus appropriation bill made him the only Maryland member of Congress to do so, DeArmon said, adding that he doesn't buy Bartlett's defense that it was loaded with "pork."

"In seven years, Bartlett has never offered a substantive amendment on an appropriations bill," he said.

"Yes, there's always unnecessary spending in bills of this type, but overall in this one, spending levels were right where they needed to be," DeArmon said.

If Bartlett disagrees, Dearmon said, then he needs to answer these questions:

"Where (is the pork)? What agency? If you don't like the bill, then offer an amendment," DeArmon said.

The issues that will drive the race, he said, include Social Security, health care and local issues, like the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie.

On Social Security, DeArmon said, "It's a shame what both parties have done" to scare beneficiaries into thinking the system's in danger of collapse.

The fix is simple, DeArmon said.

"You either have to reduce benefits over time, or increase your revenue flow, or do some other form of revenue fix," he said.

The ideal would be to model the system on the federal retirement system, he said, where there's a retirement benefit based on an employer match along with a savings component.

On health care, DeArmon noted that in 1994 the Clinton health-care proposal was opposed because many said it would drive citizens into health-maintenance organizations.

The Clinton plan failed, DeArmon said, and that happened anyway. Cautioning that there is no "quick fix," DeArmon says that the nation needs a basic package of catastrophic and preventive care. He would also support pressuring drug companies to give most seniors the same price breaks as the big HMOs get for their members.

As for Fort Ritchie, DeArmon says the lack of progress is puzzling, and after watching some of the Congressional representatives he's worked for wrestle with the same problems, he's convinced different approaches could be tried.

"I can tell you if I was the Congressman here, if they didn't work, it wouldn't be for lack of trying," he said.

DeArmon by far is the most experienced person running for this office, logging more time - 22 years - on Capitol Hill than anyone else in the race, including the incumbent.

Opponent John Ewald is a phys ed teacher in Montgomery County, Walter E. Carson is the general counsel for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and didn't live in the district as of the day he filed, (though he did spend some time working on Capitol Hill during college and law school) and Anthony McGuffin is a Howard County schoolteacher. As for Republican Tim Mayberry, his expertise is in banking and Maryland state politics.

But DeArmon may have learned too well the habit of standing in the background and deferring to his bosses. Unlike Paul Muldowney, the victor in that 1994 primary, DeArmon does not seem to stir either great admiration or animosity. His website - www.dearmon.com - contains plenty about his legislative work, but not a lot of praise from those he worked with.

Maybe that's just a sign of his modesty, but a man who's watched the process as long as he has should know that if you want a shot at the levers of power, you can't be shy about telling people why you're the best person to work them.




Bob Maginnis is Opinion editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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