Concerned About The Power Grid: Former Congressman Becomes A Homesteader

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Pictured with Nancy Pelosi in 2009, was by far the most conservative member of the Maryland delegation and was more than once called the "oddest congressman. It's all part of practicing what you preach, he says. In Bartlett's case, that's a lifestyle that relies on the government and other people as little as possible. Certainly, that was always his political platform; as the congressman from Maryland's 6th district, he advocated limited government, living within one's means - and, more surprising perhaps for a conservative Republican, expanding green energy. In 2005, he founded the Peak Oil Caucus, a group concerned that the world will soon deplete its supply of oil. ("Roscoe was green before it was cool to be green," Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer once said.)


He's staunchly anti-abortion but searched for middle ground on stem cell research, and he's a Second Amendment proponent who has never owned a gun. The Washington Post once wrote that Bartlett had a "quirky, down-home conservative style," and among his colleagues in Washington there was a clear sense that this was not just another cookie-cutter congressman: Bartlett, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) once said diplomatically, "comes at things from different angles."

Bartlett was born in Kentucky in 1926. When he was an infant, his family moved to western Pennsylvania, where, he tells me, he "grew up dirt poor on a tenant farm." It was there that he picked up most of the skills he has used to make life comfortable in his West Virginia retreat, and it's also that upbringing that moved him to go into public service, after a science career that saw him go through IBM in its start-up years and the U.S. Navy as an engineer, before becoming director of the Space Life Sciences research group at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he helped the U.S. win the space race by, among other things, developing a device that allows astronauts to breathe at high altitudes and low temperatures.

"Growing up on a farm, you just learn to make do. You couldn't possibly make enough money to hire an electrician or a plumber," he says. "I went to the Navy, and they had some problems and I thought, 'Gee, I can fix that.' And I ended up getting 19 patents." He worked his way through school, eventually earning a doctorate in physiology from the University of Maryland. In addition to working as an engineer, farmer and professor, he ran a consulting company and a construction business that built homes with solar power. While in Congress he reported a net worth of as much as $8 million. He got into politics at a time when, as he saw it, a rags-to-riches story like his own was becoming less possible. "We were poor before the Depression, and we were poor after the Depression. But then I got a bachelor's and a master's and a doctorate," he says. "I just thought that that kind of America I grew up in, where you could do that, wouldn't be there for my kids."


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