Posted: Oct. 7, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There could be as many as 11 people trying to get back into the state Senate next year and another three people trying to get out.

It means fully two-thirds of the 21 state senators will be acting like they do not know if they are coming or going.

Not to mention it can also mean a lot in the way of ulterior motives, distractions and lingering grievances that only Machiavelli could love.

The state Senate has been a better place ever since Patti Blevins took over as the Democratic president pro tem in 2012 and made an art form out of civility, but there are challenges coming.

Even so, it should be a far cry from the state House of Representatives, where the Democratic majority is so riven, it seems like it is waging jihad on itself. Never mind.

Complications come naturally to the Delaware General Assembly in an election year like 2016, when the terms of all of the state representatives and roughly half of the state senators are up, but this one is bringing extra complications to the state Senate because of three statewide offices hanging out there for the taking and three state senators going after them.

That would be Bryan Townsend, a Democrat who wants to be a congressman, and Colin Bonini, a Republican who wants to be the next governor, both of whom made their plans clear a while ago, now joined by Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat who has been tiptoeing around lieutenant governor and will only say she is "exploring" a candidacy.

It does not help that political perils await them all.

While they are all trying for open offices -- with Jack Markell ruled out after two terms as the Democratic governor, John Carney wanting to switch from Democratic congressman to governor, and no lieutenant governor -- they are all looking at primaries.

Even worse for Bonini, who still has to get past a Tea Party candidate for the Republican nomination, the voters in this Democratic state have not elected a Republican for governor since 1988 and Carney is easily favored to keep that streak going. 

Blevins is predicting the state Senate can weather the extra strain that members dreaming of statewide office could create, but it ain't necessarily so.

Blevins put it this way, "The only impact I can see is they'll be busier, but they'll be there."

A Legislative Hall regular put it another way, "It's an election year. You've got people who have a different agenda than normal Senate business and other senators concerned about re-election."

Already there are some new tensions.

As a late entry bringing the field for lieutenant governor to six Democratic but no Republican candidates, Hall-Long has two Democratic caucus mates who have otherwise committed to Sherry Dorsey Walker, namely, Margaret Rose Henry and Karen Peterson.

Henry, the Democratic majority whip, said she has a good relationship with Hall-Long, but Dorsey Walker asked for her endorsement some time ago and she is sticking with it, African-American woman to African-American woman.

"I think it is important we get more African-Americans into state government. I gave my word. It's a tough situation," Henry said.

Peterson goes way back with Dorsey Walker, who is a Wilmington councilwoman. Both went to St. Elizabeth High School in the city, and they first met when Dorsey Walker was in the eighth grade and her teacher was Peterson's sister, who invited Peterson to give a presentation as the New Castle County Council president.

For Peterson, it also comes down to a matter of principle. She is the leading advocate in the legislature for repealing the death penalty, and Dorsey Walker has been an ally, while Hall-Long voted against repeal.

"Sherry is someone who is a real up-and-comer. She is a terrific candidate, and she's the first person who came to me," Peterson said.

Legislators are also choosing up sides in the congressional race.

As of now, Townsend's main rival for the Democratic nomination is Bryon Short, a state representative, although they could still get company. The Republicans also are dealing with a primary between Hans Reigle, the ex-mayor of Wyoming, and Rose Izzo, the 2014 candidate who polled 37 percent against Carney.

Short rolled out a list of endorsements last week from 14 fellow Democratic state representatives, including Pete Schwartzkopf, the speaker, and Townsend countered this week with endorsements from Peterson and Nicole Poore, a couple of his fellow state senators, along with Ed Osienski, a Democratic state representative.

It leaves 20 Democratic legislators still uncommitted, so there still could be plenty of friction over endorsements before the congressional nomination is settled.

The state Senate could be in for a long haul that not even the election can end.

Townsend, Hall-Long and Bonini are all in the middle of four-year terms. If they lose, they will be back to nurse their political wounds. If they win, there will be yet more unrest.

Special elections to fill their seats. Phooey.