Posted: Nov. 14, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Two women are legitimately in the running to make Delaware history by getting themselves elected to the leading legislative offices, although only one of them is probably going to get there.

Patti Blevins, who spent the last session as the state Senate's Democratic majority leader, appears well-positioned to move up to president pro tem.

It would be historic, although not as historic as if the speaker of the state House of Representatives were to be a woman. The Senate elected a woman as the pro tem way back in the 1940s, so Blevins would be the first in more than 60 years, but a woman has never been the speaker.

Blevins became an obvious possibility for pro tem as soon as the votes were counted on Primary Day to show Tony DeLuca was out, a casualty of his own roughshod style as the Democratic pro tem, not to mention his notorious double dipping with dual paychecks as a legislator and an administrator in the Labor Department.

Who knew, when DeLuca had a $50,000 doorway imperially installed to the pro tem's office in Dover, he was actually making himself the butt of the old P.T. Barnum joke, this way to the egress?

It once looked like Blevins could have competition for pro tem from Karen Peterson, a Democratic senator who stood up to DeLuca more than anyone, but after they met and talked through Peterson's concerns -- like starting the Senate on time -- Peterson decided to support Blevins.

"I think it will be pretty peaceful," Peterson said.

It was not peaceful the only time so far a woman was the choice for pro tem.

The pioneer was Vera Davis, a formidable Republican who was not only the first woman elected pro tem in 1949, but the first woman ever elected to the Senate in 1946. Not only that, she was the first woman elected statewide when she won the treasurer's race in 1954.

Davis capitalized on a fight for pro tem between two men in the Republican caucus by cutting a deal with the Democratic senators to get the post for herself. Her party was furious, and she lost her seat in 1950, but she deftly rebounded. In two years she was back in the legislature in the House, where she became the majority leader, and from there, she became the state treasurer.

Like the Senate, the House has to choose someone new to preside, in this case because of the retirement of Bob Gilligan, who was the Democratic speaker.

Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic majority leader, is looking to move up, although he has to work around a challenge from Helene Keeley, the most senior Democratic representative, to get there.

Schwartzkopf appears to have the votes, although it is always dicey in Legislative Hall to count the votes before they are cast, like chickens before they are hatched.

"I feel confident," Schwartzkopf said.

Whatever happens, it says something about the state of gender equity when there are four people mentioned for the legislature's highest two posts -- Blevins, Peterson, Schwartzkopf and Keeley -- and the one in the minority is Schwartzkopf.

# # #

The names of the finalists for a raft of eight judgeships continue to make their way out of the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, now has a batch of candidates for a Superior Court opening, which has to go to a Republican to maintain the political balance on the judiciary, as the state constitution requires.

The list is confidential, but it is said to be: Andrea Rocanelli, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas; Yvonne Saville, a Wilmington lawyer; Paul Wallace, a deputy attorney general; and Ferris Wharton, a former chief deputy attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney, now a public defender.

Markell will have to call in the Senate for a special session, probably in late November or early December, to consider his nominations.

Before the Senate considers the judicial appointments, however, it will have to reorganize itself. The same scenario occurred two years ago and led to a very toxic showdown, as DeLuca muscled his way to a new term as pro tem.

The session was so tumultuous, it is hard to remember it was really supposed to be about a judicial confirmation. This time it looks like the judges will get their day.