Posted: Oct. 9, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

First State pride is in danger. Delaware is in a race to the bottom with Mississippi and Vermont to determine which state will be the last to elect a woman to its federal delegation in D.C.

If ever there was an opportunity for Delaware to get out of the running, the time has come, now that John Carney's interest in becoming the next Democratic governor means the state's lone congressional seat will be open for the 2016 election.

Enter EMILY's List. This is the 30-year-old national organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women and helping them out with the fund raising to get there, which is what its name stands for -- Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise.)

EMILY has been scouting Delaware. The word has been spreading among Democrats here that it came a-courting for Valerie Longhurst, the Democratic majority leader in the state House of Representatives, but the wooing did not work out.

The overtures occurred a few weeks ago, Longhurst acknowledged, over a lunch in Wilmington and a call from a congresswoman from Illinois, the state where Longhurst grew up, but she turned them down because of family considerations.

Although she has a daughter who has gone on to college, she still has a son who is a high school senior at home.

"I get one shot with my son. I would love to do it, but it's just not my time right now," Longhurst said.

Besides, Longhurst has already committed to supporting Bryon Short, a fellow state representative, in a Democratic congressional primary against Bryan Townsend, a state senator.

Not that EMILY is giving up. There is talk about Lisa Blunt Rochester, who was in the Cabinet for two Democratic governors -- as the Labor secretary for Tom Carper and the personnel director for Ruth Ann Minner -- as well as the CEO for the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League.

In the meantime, Delaware stays in peril of being the last state to elect a woman to Washington, but it pays to remember the voters have already decided there are things that could be worse.

Like making Christine "I'm-Not-a-Witch" O'Donnell a senator.

# # #

Legislative Hall came way too close to burning down.

Not very surprisingly, the home of the Delaware General Assembly in Dover was nearly consumed because of hot air. Well, hot exhaust, anyway.

Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker who used to be a state police commander and knows something about rescues, credits the actions of an unnamed state worker, an experienced volunteer firefighter, as crucial in saving the diminutive statehouse opened in 1933.

As Schwartzkopf tells it, the fire on Wednesday afternoon was caused by hot exhaust traveling up a flue after an emergency generator, under repair in the basement, was restarted.

The fire broke out behind the outer office leading to the speaker's office, located in the corner of the second-floor corridor on the north side of the building along Duke of York Street.

The legislature was out of session, so not many people were around. They smelled smoke before anyone saw it. The Capitol Police organized an evacuation.

The unnamed state worker collected fire extinguishers from the hallways and braved the dark, acrid smoke to knock back the fire until the fire trucks arrived. Without him, they could have lost the building, Schwartzkopf said.

Although all of Legislative Hall sustained smoke and water damage, the area around the speaker's office was the worst spot.

Schwartzkopf said his own office suffered not much more than some wet carpeting and peeled paint, but the outer office, where an aide works, has to be rebuilt.

The nearby offices for Helene Keeley and Bryon Short, two Democratic state representatives, and some staffers' offices were also damaged, as were the offices below on the first floor for Melanie George Smith, another Democratic state representative, and Debbie Hudson and Joe Miro, two Republican state representatives.

Legislative Hall has the distinction of being the only statehouse protected by volunteer firefighters. The Dover Fire Department answered the call, along with the Little Creek, Camden, Magnolia and Bowers fire companies to save it.

"It dawned on me, every day I'm walking through history. I've never given it the importance it should have, and we came close to losing it," Schwartzkopf said.

The Governor's House in Dover is Woodburn. The statehouse? Almost Didburn.