Posted: Nov. 27, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Bruce Ennis' dog was probably a bigger celebrity in Legislative Hall than he was.

The dog was a 12-year-old Chinese Shar-Pei, the breed that is all folds and wrinkles, and he was called the Bruster, although the name should have been spelled "Bruce-ster" because of his attachment to Ennis.

In a place as small as Delaware, the statehouse in Dover is homespun and unruly, something like the feel of the house of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and the Bruster was part of it.

Ennis brought the dog to Legislative Hall, where the Bruster made himself at home. He knocked over trash cans in foraging expeditions. Workers kept treats for him.

There was some expectation the Bruster would come along with Ennis on Tuesday, although for once, it was Ennis, not the dog, who was having his day.

The state Senate was meeting to to vote on some nominations in a one-day special session. It was the first opportunity to swear in Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat, since he won a special election Nov. 3 to switch chambers after spending 25 years in the state House of Representatives.

Ennis was a backbencher in the House, friendly and steady and not much for speeches. He did not seek attention, but here it was, seeking him.

Ennis replaced state Sen. Jim Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who never made it back to Dover after his re-election in 2006 because of throat cancer and pneumonia. Vaughn submitted his resignation in late September to close out 27 years in the Senate, endorsed Ennis for his seat that same day, and died two weeks later.

Ennis won in a landslide with 68 percent. The Bruster was his campaign companion as he went door to door.

The voters stuck with what they knew. Vaughn was an 82-year-old former state trooper, Ennis a 68-year-old former state trooper. Ennis exchanged his two-year House term, up next year, for the remaining three years of Vaughn's term, up in 2010. He also went from the House minority to the Senate majority and was given Vaughn's seat on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, one of the most coveted assignments in Legislative Hall.

The crowd that filled the chamber for the swearing-in ceremony included Bill Carson, the Democrat running against Republican Christine Malec for Ennis' House seat in another special election on Dec. 8. Carson's presence was not just political but also familial. His wife is the adopted daughter of Ennis' brother, making her Ennis' niece.

Before Ennis was sworn in, the Senate observed a moment of silence for Vaughn. Emotions tightened with the appearance of Judge Jim Vaughn Jr., the late senator's son, to administer the oath, and then Ennis spoke and really cinched them in.

"It wasn't a campaign about Bruce Ennis. It was a campaign about the legacy of Jim Vaughn. I did have Jim's endorsement. It was bad enough he died after he resigned, but I had another friend who died just yesterday, that worked with me on the campaign," Ennis said.

"Many of you have seen him in the halls. It's a dog named Bruster. We had to put him to sleep. He worked so hard in the campaign, he ended up dying. So I lost two good friends."

People who had kept themselves dry-eyed during the tribute to Vaughn could not manage it any longer. It was the first for most of them to learn the Bruster had to be put down because of bad kidneys. The dog was all anyone seemed to want to talk about.

There actually was not much else to discuss. The nominations under consideration were routine, although there was a question about whether the one for a Newark judge would be.

State Sen. Steve Amick, a Newark Republican who is a lawyer, had applied to be the alderman, a part-time judicial post that is the equivalent of a justice of the peace, but the City Council went with Lisa R. Hatfield, a Newark resident who worked over the line in Maryland as a Cecil County prosecutor, as its recommendation to the governor for the appointment.

There was some talk about the state Senate taking care of one of its own, anyway. There was also some talk about moving Amick out of his seat to angle for a Democratic pickup. After all, it was only two years ago that Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and her fellow Democrats in the Senate were agreeable to giving a judgeship to Jane Brady, the Republican attorney general, to turn her office Democratic, first with a temporary appointment and then with the election of Beau Biden in 2006.

It was typical Legislative Hall intrigue, but Amick was too much of a gentleman for any of that. He accepted the Newark Council's decision with grace, and he was the first to congratulate Hatfield and shake her hand once the Senate voted to confirm her as alderwoman.

There was no debate on Hatfield's nomination or any of the others, which included the reappointments of Elaine Manlove as elections commissioner and Aida Waserstein as a Family Court judge.

The longest remarks of the day probably belonged to state Sen. Bob Venables, a Laurel Democrat who offered the prayer. He prayed for Vaughn and Ennis and called the session "a joyous day and at the same time, a sad day."

Ennis wanted to be a senator for a long time. It just was not supposed to cost the life of another senator and his dog.