Posted: Dec. 2, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The four caucuses of the General Assembly are almost finished choosing their leadership, all but the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The House Republicans are engaged in genuine intrigue in advance of their organizational meeting on Tuesday, because their leadership posts are wide open, but this is not to say they are the only caucus with secret doings.

It is just that the situation with the Senate Democrats has been largely hushed up.

The Senate Republicans were the first to organize after the election. Maybe they thought if they decided real fast, it would go unnoticed that they were designating a minority leader, not a president pro tem, for the 20th legislative session in a row. Oh, the futility.

Running for leadership in a minority caucus is something like playing in the loser's bracket of a sports tournament. The Senate Republicans kept Gary Simpson as minority leader and Liane Sorenson as minority whip and were done with it.

The House Democrats voted to reinstate their leadership lineup, too, and they had good reason. All around the country, Election Day was a bloodbath for Democratic legislators with more than 700 seats lost, but not here.

Defying the trend, the House was one of only a half-dozen legislative chambers nationwide to add Democrats. It picked up two of them to outnumber the Republicans 26-15.

Legislators are nothing if not risk aversive, so there was no sense in tampering with success. The House Democrats rewarded their officers with a vote of confidence for Bob Gilligan to remain as speaker, Pete Schwartzkopf as majority leader and Valerie Longhurst as majority whip.

The Senate Democrats gave the impression they were as placid as their House mates. A succinct press release after their organizational meeting touted a return for Tony DeLuca as president pro tem, Patti Blevins as majority leader and Margaret Rose Henry as majority whip.

The press release did not bother to mention DeLuca was challenged. Details, details.

DeLuca has not exactly devoted himself to winning friends and influencing enemies. Not with his project to change the door on the pro tem's office for $50,000. Not with his back-of-the-hand rejection of a bill for Delaware State scholarships on the last day of session, despite a request from Gilligan and Nancy Cook, a fellow Democratic senator who chaired the Joint Finance Committee.

The challenge to DeLuca came from Michael Katz. This could be considered surprising, because Katz is in his first term. He was nominated by Karen Peterson. This could not be considered surprising, because Peterson is not afraid of anything.

Katz is believed to have received five votes -- more than one-third of the 14-member caucus.

The House Republicans have no choice but to name a new minority leader, because Richard Cathcart, their last one, retired. As the contest is unfolding, the caucus is expected to decide between Danny Short, who wants to move up from minority whip, and Greg Lavelle, who has run for leadership before but not made it.

With the vote set for Dec. 7, who knows how it will be remembered? As occurring on Delaware Day in a grand coincidence or Pearl Harbor Day, a date which will live in infamy? 

The caucus is bottom-heavy with downstaters, who outnumber the upstaters by 10-5, but this has not stopped a consensus from developing that the leadership ought to be drawn from both.

Short is from downstate in Seaford. Lavelle is from upstate in Brandywine Hundred.

If Lavelle wins, Short could run for his old post of minority whip, or alternatively a different downstater could emerge, say, Gerald Hocker from Ocean View. If Short wins, Debbie Hudson from upstate in Greenville could be interested in becoming the minority whip.

The speaker and the president pro tem are actually elected by a vote of the entire chamber.

This is not a problem for Gilligan in the House. It conceivably could be for DeLuca in the Senate.

The Senate has 14 Democrats and seven Republicans. The conventional practice is for the Democratic caucus, including the five members believed not to have voted for DeLuca, to unite and ensure his election.

Still, there have been rumblings to the contrary, and the Senate could be worth watching when the legislature returns to Dover on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Nothing in politics is as complex as simple math. Can 5 Democrats + 7 Republicans = Katz?