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Bartlett's excuses just don't ring true

October 27, 2000

Bartlett's excuses just don't ring true



The power of the incumbency and the stacked campaign-finance deck render it a virtual waste of space to speak out against entrenched politicians in an election year.

Yet after viewing this week's Maryland Public Television debate between Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, and his Democratic challenger Don DeArmon, it's impossible to let this great irony go unspoken: The politician Roscoe Bartlett most resembles, in style if not in substance, is one of the politicians he likely most despises - Bill Clinton.

Bartlett, who has curiously taken to referring to himself in the third person like some NBA hipster, magnificently split hairs, quibbled over language and, in general, was about as forthright as our president. If Clinton is Slick Willie, Bartlett is Slick Bartie.

Whenever the footing grew unfirm he scurried back to the solid ground he knows so well - wrapping himself in the flag and beating up on easy targets like trial lawyers, which are to Republicans what Newt Gingrich is to Democrats.

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Two quick examples of Bartlett's struggles with the truth: In a volley over campaign finance, Bartlett implied he was being outspent by his challenger when he noted that in a recent reporting period DeArmon had raised more money than he had.

What Bartlett left out, with Clintonesque artistry, was that overall he has spent more than twice what DeArmon has spent ($305,000 to $130,000) and he has almost three times as much cash in the bank as DeArmon ($278,000 to $101,000), according to Federal Election Commission filings. But I guess that depends on what your definition of "cash" is.

Second, Bartlett - charged by DeArmon with voting against projects that would help the people of his district - looked the camera in the eye and said he did not vote against funding for a city revitalization project in Cumberland. All that was lacking was the wagging finger.

The truth is, Bartlett did vote against this project and others which benefit the people of his district.

In Bartlett's World his "no" vote doesn't count, because the Cumberland project was lumped in with other spending projects across the country - projects he described as an unconscionable waste of tax dollars.

So we are left to believe that the Cumberland project is worthy and has Bartlett's support, while everyone else's project is vile "pork."

Somehow, Bartlett's defense of himself was that he had "read the bill." So? The iron truth is Bartlett voted against the Cumberland project, along with a number of similar projects for other congressional districts.

This has been the pattern of Bartlett's career in office. He votes against projects for the 6th District to win the kudos and endorsements of taxpayer watchdog groups. Then he turns around and stampedes out to ribbon cuttings in the district to claim credit for the very projects he voted against.

He voted against funding for the I-70/270 interchange project in Frederick. Yet there he is, front and center in all the newspaper photos of the groundbreaking. (Doesn't this remind you of Clinton, when he was on the caboose of welfare reform until it began to succeed, when he suddenly moved to the locomotive?) Bartlett voted against the 1993 legislation that set the wheels in motion to balance the budget, yet in his newsletters from Congress he happily takes credit for eliminating the national deficit.

In his very first campaign, Bartlett said that he wasn't old enough to serve in World War II, when in fact he was. He only escaped military service through a religious school deferment - a religious career that lasted only as long as the war did, incidentally.

He's never changed his spots.

He continues to say he's for campaign finance reform, yet he voted against John McCain's finance reform legislation. He continues to say he's for, then against, term limits. He wants term limits for everyone but him, it seems. On Oct. 16 he told an NAACP-sponsored forum that he is "very supportive of affirmative action." In 1998 he voted to prohibit affirmative action for higher-ed admissions.

Of course, like Clinton, Bartlett is a master at weaving cover stories, excuses and sleights of hand.

He can always find something "wrong" with a bill (e.g., it spends too much, it is unfair to veterans) to justify his negative votes. Or there was another bill he liked better. Or it gives too much power to the trial lawyers.

All this would be easier to take if Bartlett ever accomplished anything positive for the district, but he doesn't.

He has failed to seal the deal on Fort Ritchie. He was asked to exempt Washington County from vehicle emission tests and failed. He tried to save the Roundhouse and failed. He tried to bring Washington County the TWA 800/NTSB safety center. So far, no success.

Someone so in step with the conservative majority in Congress ought to be in the position to ask favors. But Bartlett is ignored by his fellow conservatives in positions of power.

This leaves Bartlett off in a political la-la land, trying to get Ronald Reagan's head carved in Mount Rushmore and President's Day referred to as George Washington's Birthday. Like a spoiled child, when he found himself shut out of the National Republican Convention, he tried to get federal convention funding cut. Funny, that same convention spending never bothered him when he himself was there enjoying the party.

You can argue that Bartlett is simply doing what the majority of those in his district want him to do: Nothing. So why does he feel the need to lie and posture pathetically with all his cardboard patriotism? It might fool the majority of the district, but a true patriot might feel it's better to tell the truth and to vote in favor of measures that will help the men, women and children of Western Maryland.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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