Posted: Dec. 6, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The first sign of change was the door to the Senate president pro tem's office in Legislative Hall. It was open, wide open, so anybody could just walk in.

Inside the Senate chamber, the mood was celebration. Like Dorothy's house had fallen on the wicked witch. Like Tinker Bell was going to be all right. Like Santa Claus had come to town.

Some of it was because the place on Wednesday was wall-to-wall with winners, a happy lot only a month removed from Election Day, but most of it was because the Senate was installing Patti Blevins, a Democratic senator from Elsmere, as its president pro tem during a special session.

It was Blevins who flung open the pro tem's door in an unmistakable break with the practice of Tony DeLuca, the last pro tem, who had fortified the entryway and ran the Senate something like the Red Queen decreeing off with their heads.

Instead, Blevins was soothing and conciliatory as she addressed the Senate.

"I have great respect and admiration for each and every one of you. I served with four Senate president pro tems -- Senator Cordrey, Senator Sharp, Senator Adams and Senator DeLuca -- and I learned a great deal from each of them. We'll make some new traditions of our own," Blevins said.

"After 22 years of serving here, I really know what good we can do, especially when we work together. I'm always proud to be a Delaware state senator."

Even the "Row of No," the back seats occupied by downstate conservatives on the Republican side of the aisle, was so affected by the changeover, it seemed more like the "Row of Nice."

"We are all very proud to support Senator Blevins," said Colin Bonini, who has a longstanding friendship with Blevins, despite his charter membership in the "Row of No."

With all of the goodwill flowing, there could not have been a better day to come before the Senate for confirmation. It certainly turned out that way.

The one-day session bringing the Senate to Dover was called by Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, to consider some judicial appointments, most notably a re-nomination for John Noble, a vice chancellor, and a nomination for Charlie Butler, the chief deputy attorney general, to the Superior Court.

Never was heard a discouraging word as the Senate made like an assembly line to move the nominations from confirmation hearings to roll calls.

Still, it did linger long enough to listen to some insightful remarks from Eric Davis, now going from the Court of Common Pleas to the Superior Court, after already going from the remote world of corporate law with Skadden Arps, a powerhouse firm, to the human tragedy of the courtroom.

"Quite honestly, I really love being a judge on the Court of Common Pleas," Davis said. "When you're on the bench, the people before you, they aren't having a great day. It's very important for a judge to be prepared and focused, because it's important to them. There is a very strong human factor in the Court of Common Pleas."

The session, a great deal of it organizational, was staggeringly brisk by past Senate standards with Blevins determined to waste less time. It began promptly, resolved itself in two hours and was vastly compacted by a command decision to swear in everybody at once.

Jim Vaughn Jr., the Superior Court president judge whose late father served in the chamber, conducted the mass oath-taking that began with all the senators saying their own name at the same time, as jarring as the Tower of Babel as it was symbolic of the many voices of a democracy. E pluribus unum.

Gary Simpson, the Republican minority leader recovering at home from heart surgery, joined the other 20 senators by cell phone and had his oath administered by Bruce Rogers, a lawyer who is a past chair of the Sussex County Republicans.

Not all of the day was harmony. The Senate Republicans let it be known they would push for a constitutional amendment to stiffen the provision for political balance on the courts by requiring judicial applicants to maintain their registration for at least the previous two years.

This comes after some Family Court candidates switched from Democrat to Republican and set off speculation it could be a way to end-run the constitution, if a conspiratorily-minded Democratic governor and Democratic Senate majority were so inclined. The Family Court judgeship went to a genuine Republican, but still.

"It gave me cause for alarm that there could be an attempt at stacking the court with one party," Simpson said in a statement issued two hours after the session ended.

The proceedings also included the odd sight of Tony DeLuca sitting in the gallery as Blevins' guest. He was never acknowledged, a past pro tem forgotten but not gone. He said he wanted it that way.

"It's Patti's day," DeLuca said.

As the day showed, it was her Senate, too.