Posted: Nov. 8, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Labor Day came twice this year, once in September and again on Election Day when the unions had a lot to say about who won and who did not.

Mostly it came about because of a marriage between the labor movement and the Delaware Democratic Party, but labor is for labor and did not mind taking care of itself with a little bit of cheating on the side.

The prevailing Democratic trend that elected Beau Biden attorney general and some new state representatives was not so much a tide but a variation of a Labor Day parade -- with hundreds of union members marching door-to-door in Democratic neighborhoods to get out the vote.

It helped the unions put two of its own in the state House of Representatives. Gerald L. Brady, the new Democratic representative from Wilmington, is the executive director of the Delaware AFL-CIO, and John Kowalko, the new Democratic representative from Newark, is a union man, too.

Democrats looked the other way, though, as House Speaker Terry R. Spence and state Rep. Vincent A. Lofink, Republicans friendly to labor, slipped back into office -- Lofink by only 127 votes.

State Rep. William A. Oberle Jr. and state Sen. Dori A. Connor, Republicans with even stronger ties to labor, skated to re-election without the Democrats even fielding candidates against them.

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Getting re-elected to the legislature was only one of Terry Spence's worries. Getting re-elected to be speaker is another one.

Spence, the longest-serving speaker in state history, has been called out.

A Christiana-Stanton area legislator first elected in 1980, Spence has presided during a steady erosion of Republican power. From a high of 29 Republicans elected to the 41-member chamber in 2002, the caucus dropped to 26 seats in 2004 (if you count a contrary Republican who turned independent), to 23 seats in 2006.

The survivors are getting nervous. The loss of another three seats in 2008 would put them in the minority.

In addition, the balance of House Republican power has switched from upstate to downstate. Once the election returns are official, there will be 11 Republicans from New Castle County and 12 Republicans from Kent County and Sussex County, and the "downstate dozen" are getting restless about having an upstate speaker like Spence.

State Rep. Joseph W. Booth, a Sussex County Republican elected to a third term without opposition, circulated a four-page letter to his fellow House Republicans on Wednesday, the day after the election, to declare his intentions to run for speaker.

"To borrow a phrase from the Great Communicator, is our caucus better off today than it was four years ago? If you say 'yes,' stay the course. I am convinced that if we stay the course, we will be the minority party in the House of Representatives in 2008," Booth wrote.

He suggested that Spence get out of the way and run for governor.

Booth does not have the votes in his pocket, and there are plenty of other caucus members who look in the mirror and see a speaker, so his letter is simply the opening salvo in what is likely to be an ugly struggle and naked dealing.

It is worth remembering that the entire House votes for the speaker, not just the Republican caucus, and if there is any legislator wily enough to exploit the Republican divisions for Democratic gain, it is House Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan.

Think about it: 18 Democrats + 3 labor Republicans = majority.