It wasn't long ago when freshman Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett seemed destined to be a one-termer. Within weeks of taking office in 1993, he carved out a reputation as Western Maryland's accidental politician, who happened into office but could not hold on to it. Now he has to be considered the odds-on favorite for re-election to Maryland's Sixth Congressional District, which sprawls from Howard and Carroll counties on the east to Garrett County on the west.
Gone is his early reputation for making impolitic public utterances. After he allowed as how some of the accomplished high school students in his district didn't have "normal" names and then refused to seek federal emergency assistance for removing snow from the severe ice storms of the winter of 1993-1994, Mr. Bartlett's political fortunes looked dismal. Fellow Republicans, who didn't want the seat to fall back into the hands of the Democrats, openly talked of opposing him.
But no formidable GOP challenge has materialized. A former Maryland congressman, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., decided not to take on Mr. Bartlett, who now faces a weak field in the primary. And since Beverly Byron -- the district's congresswoman who lost in the 1992 Democratic primary to Del. Thomas Hattery -- decided not to run, the Democratic Party will field a much less prominent candidate for this year's general election.
During the past year, Mr. Bartlett has single-mindedly focused on reducing federal spending. His ideological opposition to federal spending results in his voting against such measures as education authorizations and extension of unemployment benefits, both of which help the economically-depressed portions of his district.
At the same time, Mr. Bartlett's complaints about wasteful federal spending -- such as presidential aides using helicopters to travel to a Frederick golf course -- show an intellectual and political consistency that many conservatives lack. Unlike some of his other congressional colleagues, Mr. Bartlett is sincere about removing perks and privileges available only to members of Congress.
Considering his rough start, Mr. Bartlett has done a noteworthy job of shedding his public image as a bumbling political amateur. While he still cultivates his image as a Washington outsider, Mr. Bartlett no longer appears quite so politically out of step. Voters now have the opportunity to decide whether Mr. Bartlett's retooled image is reason enough to rehire him for another term.