Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Road Trip Report, Part 1

This voter, politically,
has been all over the map

First day on the road and it didn’t take long to find an oddity – a guy named Steve whose claim to Real Muck fame is having voted for both Barack Obama and John McCain.

By way of introduction, we met Steve at our first overnight stop – Bonnie didn’t want to plan ahead, but to head off in the way we used to, without any idea where we’d land.

So we were off on a sunny afternoon drive west to Antietam National Battlefield (where just as we arrived, clouds moved in and blocked most of the rays, so only a few photos were taken), then along the old Harpers Ferry Road.

We found lodging in a hostel on the Maryland side of the Potomac – first hostel we’d stayed in since a drive through Holland nearly two decades ago – and met Steve, whose resume likely will list his job here as “plant manager.” He was very happy with the job he’d just finished fixing up the compost pile out back.

Steve’s an independent, and a traveler. He noted having voted for McCain eight years ago in the North Carolina presidential primary (mostly out of principle against George W. Bush), and to put Obama in the U.S. Senate four years ago in Illinois, where he went back home to help care for his folks.

Now he’s registered to vote in West Virginia, and Obama’s getting his nod this year. Steve allowed as how he wouldn’t vote again for Ralph Nader for president (yup, he even voted once for Nader!), and wonders what would happen if “none of the above” appeared on the ballots across the nation – and won.

Conservative byways

Most of the political signs along our drive were McCain/Palin, which was not surprising given the conservative bent of this stretch of the Sixth congressional district. I kind of love the Sixth, if only for its bizarre political history.

You can be a Democrat here and win a seat in Congress – but don’t be too liberal. Goodloe Byron (whose parents both had also represented the district) was seeking his fifth term in the 1978 elections, a Western Maryland hometown favorite who wasn't too liberal and seemed so unbeatable that no Republican even bothered to seek the nomination.

None, that is, save a semi-homeless, mentally unstable but very opportunistic Baltimore bum named Melvin Clifton Perkins. He didn’t even live in the district, not that anyone would know where (or if) he hung his hat most nights. Perkins ended up unopposed in the Republican congressional primary, and thus was on the general election ballot running against Goodloe Byron.

Imagine the shock when, less than a month before the election, Byron dropped dead of heart attack – if I recall, it came while he was jogging along the C&O Canal trail. Ten days before the election, the party named his widow, Beverly, to replace him on the ballot.

We used to have a traditional election night “ghoul pool” in the Baltimore Sun newsroom, and I was its keeper and creator. That November, the tie-breaker question was the number of votes that homeless bum Melvin Perkins would garner in the Sixth District contest.

For the record, it was close to 14,000 people who didn’t care whom they voted for – as long as it was a Republican. Perkins then claimed that Bev had been illegally put on the ballot, and filed a protest – and even took a seat on the floor of the House of Representatives until the matter was settled in Byron’s favor. Finally Melvin was given what he deserved: the bum’s rush by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The district these days is securely in the hands of a conservative Republican named Roscoe Bartlett – and he’s probably the only Roscoe on Capitol Hill. Bartlett, who is in his eighth term, lists on his congressional Web site this resume: professor, research scientist and inventor, small business owner, and farmer.

He’s also 82 years old, and there’s no indication that his hobbies include jogging.


MitchHellman said...

I think I recall Perkins running for some office in Baltimore-- Mayor? City Council? State Representative? I don't remember for sure-- but I remember that there was even a televised debate with all the candidates attending.

I do, however, remember that one of Lyndon LaRouche's droids also ran for the same position; neither one of them won the election, but Perkins placed higher.

From then on, whenever I saw one of the LaRouche crowd handing out leaflets and/or trying to raise some money, I never failed to ask them how it felt to have someone in their organization who got fewer votes than a genuine mental patient.

Anonymous said...

David, your recollection of Byron dying while jogging is correct. The word in the county (Washington) at that time was that the autopsy showed he had hereditary heart disease, and wouldn't have lived as long as he did if he hadn't exercised so much.
Beverly Byron was a very conservative Democrat, well suited to the Sixth Distric, but not beloved by some of the powers that be in the suburban sections of the Sixth. Some of these powers threw their weight behind Tom Hattery in the Democratic primary in 1992, thus ending Beverly's tenure. I understand she was mightily pissed by lack of support during that race, and essentially resigned from active Democratic politics forever.
This is the circumstance that led to Roscoe's election. It was the second or third time he'd run for the seat. One of the key issues in his campaign was term limits; he vowed he'd resign after one or two terms (I forget which.)
Seems he's forgotten too.
Al McKegg