Posted: Oct. 5, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Even before the votes are cast, there are changes coming because of the special election to replace James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who resigned from the state Senate last week for health reasons.

They are not earth-shaking changes. They are more like John-Carney-shaved-off-his-mustache kind of changes, the types that show up in Delaware trivia contests. Still, they deserve to be mentioned.

Here are some milestones and oddities emerging from the special election, which is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 3.

Time is doing what campaigning, no matter how vigorous, has not. The Senate's membership has been fixed for five years, when Democrat Karen E. Peterson got there by winning an open seat and Republican Charles L. Copeland ousted an incumbent in a primary.

The special election will determine whether the Democrats keep their 13-8 majority, unaltered since Margaret Rose Henry defected to her home party in 1995 after a brief Republican fling. It is a stability that even the old Soviets could envy.

Crossing Duck Creek. Special legislative elections have not brought voters from two counties to the polls before this one, but the 14th Senatorial District straddles a border. It ranges from Delaware City in New Castle County to Pickering Beach in Kent County, with roughly three-quarters of the voters living to the north in New Castle County.

The Republicans, knowing an advantage when they see one, are running Joanne M. Christian, the Appoquinimink school board president from Townsend in New Castle County. The Democrats are going with state Rep. Bruce C. Ennis from Smyrna in Kent County. They like his chances because the district has 4,000 more Democrats than Republicans. It makes this election a seesaw of geography against registration.

What is so special about a special election? Ten years have elapsed since the last time the state Senate had to hold a special election. That one in 1997 went to Dori A. Connor, a New Castle Republican who succeeded her late husband and has stayed in the chamber ever since. Senators who win special elections tend to stick. In addition to Connor, two other sitting senators were elected that way -- Henry in 1994 and Democrat Nancy W. Cook in 1974.

In contrast to the Senate, the state House of Representatives has been inundated with special elections -- with two held earlier this year. It is some kind of unwanted streak to have three legislative special elections in one year, and there will have to be a fourth if Ennis wins the latest. They are exhausting. There is no move yet to change the law and let the governor appoint someone to a vacancy, but if this string goes on any longer, it could be greeted as mercy legislation.

This special election is one for the ages. Vaughn had a short reign as the General Assembly's oldest member. He is 82. He became the oldest legislator with the 2006 election, when state Rep. Tina Fallon, a Seaford Republican, retired instead of seeking re-election at the age of 89.

Now the distinction belongs to state Rep. V. George Carey, a Milford Republican who is 79 -- a little more than two months older than state Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Democratic president pro tem from Bridgeville. People may not live longer below the canal, but they certainly seem to stay in office longer.

The youngest legislator is state Rep. Melanie George Marshall, a Bear Democrat who is 34. How young is that? It sure feels like Jim Vaughn, who was known as one stubborn committee chair, bottled up bills older than she is.