Posted: Jan. 4, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The assembly line of Democrats crowding into statewide office kept rolling with Chip Flowers as the newest one, the seventh to be elected in the past six elections.

As the last, Flowers did not seem inclined to be the least, even though he is the state treasurer and could be said to carry out his most solemn responsibility once he wrote out his signature for the state checks.

Flowers, a lawyer from Middletown, took his oath during a ceremony Tuesday morning at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. It was a grand location, and Flowers had himself welcomed into office by the state's two most famous former treasurers.

They would be Gov. Jack Markell and Sen. Tom Carper, his fellow Democrats, who delivered a sort of gentle fraternal hazing in front of a roomful of about 175 people, including a number of Very Important Persons whom Flowers invited.

"It never happened at any of my state treasurer swearing-ins to have the entire congressional delegation," Markell quipped.

"It's a dead-end job. You'll never go anywhere. . . . You'll never be a governor, you'll never be a U.S. senator, you may be state treasurer for 30 years," Carper teased.

There is something to be said about the future potential of a state treasurer, but these days there is probably as much or more to be said about the other Democrats who have commandeered statewide office, everything except auditor.

It is political gridlock out there -- with Carper standing like a stone wall in the Senate and Chris Coons, who just made it in, and John Carney, also freshly minted as the new congressman. Not to forget Markell and Matt Denn ready to run again as governor and lieutenant governor and Beau Biden just re-elected as attorney general. Like anyone expects him to disappear, with his name. Oh, and even Karen Weldin Stewart, the insurance commissioner.

Whether or not the state treasurer's office keeps its allure as a stepping stone, it has just reaffirmed another place it holds in Delaware history. Back in the 1950s, it was the first statewide office ever won by a woman, and now it is the first ever won by an African-American. Even if it did come to Delaware two years after the country elected itself an African-American president.

"Chip knocks down one of those other barriers," Carney said.

Flowers got to the office by winning a Democratic primary against Velda Jones-Potter, appointed by Markell to replace himself when he became governor, and then nudging out Colin Bonini, a Republican state senator, by some 6,000 votes in the general election. Never mind it was supposed to be a Republican year.

"In the Year of the O'Donnell, Delaware bucked the trend, and you bucked the trend," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic majority leader in the state House of Representatives.

Flowers enters office with an expectation for being not just the state's official bookkeeper, but rather an economic adviser with spread, although this is not necessarily an expectation shared by others, even friendly others.

As Schwartzkopf put it, "You have a lot of ideas, some that are bold, some that are bolder, and some that are way over here."

Flowers had a start to remember. He mangled his oath so badly that Greg Sleet, the federal judge who was administering it, laughed himself out of his judicial demeanor.

Flowers got his biggest applause for keeping his campaign promise to accept only a dollar in pay for his first year. He said he was donating his salary of $110,050 to the United Way to create two fellowships in the treasurer's office.

His first promise as treasurer did not fare as well. He said he would speak for seven or eight minutes, but he fudged it by not counting the time he spent to thank people, and then he ran long, anyway. He missed his mark by 10 minutes or so.

It would be good if Flowers keeps better track of the state's money than time.