After an intimate town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlet of Buckeystown on Aug. 30, some of the attendees were impressed with his positions on everything from the death penalty to the debt crisis, but not enough to cast their vote for him in November.
“I have more respect for him than I did,” said Stephen Wilhide of Frederick. “... He thinks through things and doesn’t just depend on ideology. I respect his intellectual process, but I am not voting for him.”
Sixteen people showed up to rub shoulders with the Republican seeking an 11th, two-year term in the redrawn 6th Congressional District.
Democrats at the gathering at the C. Burr Artz Library community room in Frederick expressed appreciation for Bartlett’s frank responses to their questions, but wondered why the man in person did not match the man on paper.
When asked why he was not in Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention last week, Bartlett admitted he was in a “tough race” and being in Tampa would not earn him more votes.
After a relatively quiet summer, Bartlett is hitting the campaign trail with a series of town hall meetings scheduled in the wide-ranging district in the next few weeks. He is fighting to retain his seat in a reconfigured district that gives his opponent, political newcomer John Delaney (D), a wealthy businessman from Potomac, an advantage by increasing the number of registered Dems by 42,000.
“I appreciate more of what he stands for, but I wish he would speak out more.... [Before tonight] I thought he was lockstep with the Tea Party,” Mark Jafari, a financial analyst, said of Bartlett.
Jafari, too, said he will not vote for Bartlett.
Jobs and the economy, along with the nation’s growing budget deficit are the top issues for most voters, according to a recent poll, Bartlett told the group.
Jafari and others chided Bartlett for signing Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes, saying it was impossible to serve constituents and make a dent in the deficit without raising revenue somewhere.
Jim Carpenter of Jefferson urged Bartlett to “unsign the pledge,” which was echoed and applauded by most of the attendees.
Norquist, a conservative activist, asks elected officials to sign a pledge not to raise taxes and publishes results on his website.
“We elected you, not Grover Norquist,” Jafari said.
Bartlett’s said his answer is to change the tax structure without raising taxes, which would save $200 billion that the government spends annually on tax compliance. But his idea of a consumer tax on goods met with disapproval from some attendees, who said that structure still favors the rich.
Bartlett, 85, was refreshingly honest in diverging from partisan ideology, some attendees said. Bartlett, a physicist and farmer who has readied a West Virginia cabin for “doomsday,” told the crowd that he received his doctorate 60 years ago.
He said he agreed with parts of the Affordable Health Care Act, referred to as “Obamacare” by his Republican colleagues. A self-proclaimed “avid” pro-lifer on abortion, Bartlett is against the death penalty, saying he cannot understand how anyone who is against abortion can be for the death penalty.
As for the deficit, Bartlett, who has served 15 years on the powerful House Armed Services committee, said over half the nation’s budget goes for defense. President Dwight Eisenhower had it mostly right when he warned of a growing military-industrial complex, he said.
“It’s worse than Eisenhower imagined,” he said. “We have a military-congressional complex.”
Bartlett also was asked if he was in favor of cutting the defense budget.
“Americans are tired of discretionary wars,” Bartlett said to murmurs of approval from the audience.
Bartlet lamented that while America is home to top universities, those in kindergarten through 12th grade are receiving a subpar education, according to global statistics.
Although Bartlett said America is no longer the leader in education, nuclear families, or work ethic, he is proud of the nation’s role when it comes to civil liberties.
“What makes us so darned special is our respect for civil liberties,” he said.
The Patriot Act, which lifted certain restrictions on law enforcement to better protect the nation from terrorism, puts that at risk, according to Bartlett, who voted against the law.
Letty Carpenter and husband, Jim, were pleased with the discussion, but as Democrats said they would not be voting for Bartlett.
“This did not change my mind, but it did increase my respect for him,” Letty Carpenter said. “If we had more town hall meetings like this — small enough to not be confrontational, the whole country would be a whole lot better off.”
A recording of the event will be posted on Bartlett’s campaign website, bartlettforcongress.com.