Mudslinging in Maryland's 6th


For the first time in more than two decades there isn't a member of the Byron family running in Maryland's 6th congressional district, and the decorum that characterized the campaigns of Goodloe and Beverly Byron has been sorely missed this time around.

Republican nominee Roscoe Bartlett and Democrat Thomas Hattery have engaged in the most mean-spirited political campaign seen in Western Maryland for some time. Mr. Bartlett, a Frederick county resident who has run unsuccessfully in two previous races, apparently has abandoned what had been a campaign that contrasted his conservative views with the more liberal views of Mr. Hattery, a Frederick resident and member of the House of Delegates since 1983. Mr. Hattery has responded with his own campaign of smears and insults.

The mudslinging started this summer, when Mr. Bartlett wildly accused Mr. Hattery of "embezzling" taxpayer dollars by filing "fraudulent" expense accounts in Annapolis. Mr. Bartlett alleged Mr. Hattery was charging the state for hotel rooms he didn't use and for meals he didn't eat. There never was any substance to these charges, and Mr. Bartlett knew it. Why else would he hold a press conference, make the allegations and then duck out before taking any questions about them from the press? For nearly a month, these phony charges were the focus of the Bartlett campaign.

Last week, the state prosecutor officially said Mr. Hattery's expense statements were in order. Here's hoping we have heard the last of these phony charges.

But Mr. Hattery's campaign felt compelled to respond in kind.

First, Mr. Hattery charged that Mr. Bartlett, who opposes federal farm-subsidy payments, gladly accepted $5,216.12 in payments not to plant corn, barley and wheat in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Mr. Hattery said he brought up the subsidies to show that Mr. Bartlett "sets a different standard for himself than for everyone else."

After Mr. Bartlett said that he was too young to be drafted in World War II, Mr. Hattery's campaign released information showing Mr. Bartlett had actually requested and received a deferment to attend divinity school.

The most recent charge comes from the Maryland Clean Water Action group alleging that Mr. Bartlett was providing contaminated well water for tenants in his Frederick boarding house. The group claimed Mr. Bartlett ignored state orders but finally complied in 1991 by drilling another well.

This political tit-for-tat has not provided 6th District voters with much useful information about the candidates. During the remaining four weeks of the campaign, we urge the candidates to re-focus their campaigns on the issues of consequence -- such as job creation, affordable health care and improved commuter transportation, for starters.

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