Last night's televised debate between the 6th District congressional candidates provided no let-up in the rat-tat-tat of charge and counter-charge that has provided the rhythm section for the race between Democrat Tom Hattery and Republican Roscoe Bartlett.
The newest charge was raised last week, just before the debate was taped, when Mr. Bartlett produced documentation that he said proved Mr. Hattery did not have workmen's compensation insurance for the workers at his family's small publishing business.
Mr. Hattery dismissed that as "simply wrong." After the taping, he produced checks to an insurance company apparently paying for such insurance, and he explained that the state agency which provided Mr. Bartlett's documentation somehow had missed the fact that he had changed insurance companies.
End of issue? Not in this race.
Yesterday, the Bartlett campaign refused to withdraw the charge. "I've seen a copy of two checks, one of which was canceled, the other apparently not," Jim Lafferty, the Bartlett campaign spokesman said.
"And the state workmen's compensation commission still does not have any record of this. We have kept checking."
Hattery campaign spokesman Paul Rosencrantz said that the second check was in fact canceled on the back and that the insurance was up to date.
During the debate, Mr. Hattery said, "I wish we could keep it off of personal attacks and on to the issue at hand."
But later, in answer to a question about the environment, he brought up an earlier charge that Mr. Bartlett deliberately avoided cleaning up wells on his farm that serve tenants, even though ordered to do so by state and county authorities. "He actually had to be threatened with legal action by the state and local health agencies because he hooked the tenants on his farm up to wells contaminated with fecal material and cancer-causing substances," he said.
"Tom, you have slipped to new lows," Mr. Bartlett replied. "I drink that same water as those tenants. I raised 10 children on that water. My parents, my wife, her parents, drank that water.
"What you're talking about is a trivial thing that essentially every farm well in the county is concerned with. I responded quickly and effectively. There was no threat of suits or anything else . . . . I would say if you are really interested in fecal matter, take a long look at your campaign techniques."
Mr. Bartlett's campaign kept that topic alive yesterday as it charged that a piece of Hattery direct mail literature distorted the pollution charges by using a picture of old steel drums, implying that they were found on the Bartlett farm.
Fred Hoover, Mr. Hattery's campaign manager, defended the piece, admitting that the drums were not from the Bartlett farm, but saying the important part was the written text which quotes from various letters Mr. Hattery received from state and county agencies ordering a cleanup of the wells.
Depending on whose organization you talk to, the nasty tone of this campaign was set either by Mr. Hattery in his successful primary race against Congresswoman Beverly B. Byron, the Democratic incumbent, or by Mr. Bartlett, who last summer charged Mr. Hattery with "embezzlement" for alleged improprieties with his legislative expense account. The state prosecutor subsequently cleared Mr. Hattery.