Posted: Dec. 9, 2014
'TIS THE SEASON
By Celia Cohen
The legislators had better not pout, they had better not blow it, the next election will be here before they know it.
There is no off-season in politics, there is speculation, to be sure, about who will lose and who will retire and who wants to run for something more.
So here is a list, it will be wrong once or twice, but the legislators on it ought to be nice, or the voters will be voting them down.
Winning an election with 55 percent of the vote or less is generally a warning sign, definitely for incumbents, not so much for first-time candidates who were not familiar to the voters or had to take out a sitting legislator.
Dave Lawson, a Republican senator from Kent County, can certainly expect a serious challenge after he was barely re-elected to a four-year term in 2012 with 51 percent of the vote.
Sean Matthews, a new Democratic representative in Brandywine Hundred, pulled off a 55 percent victory in 2014, but it is probably better than it looks, because he had to knock off Dennis Williams, a three-term Democrat, in a primary and then hold off a Republican candidate with campaign experience. Still, this is a district with a history of periodically dumping its representative.
Sean Lynn, a new Democratic representative from Dover, polled 53 percent in an open race in 2014, but it secured what could be a safe district going forward with the Democrats' 2-1 registration edge. Lynn, who previously was elected to the City Council, got to the legislature by winning a primary and defeating a Republican who ran before.
Rich Collins, a new Republican representative from Sussex County, took 52 percent of the vote in 2014 to oust John Atkins, a Democrat who was in the House of Representatives since 2002, except for a partial term off for bad behavior. Atkins fought his way back in then, and he would surprise nobody if he tried it again.
That 70s Show
Going into the 2014 election, the oldest senator was Bob Venables, an 81-year-old Sussex County Democrat, and the oldest representative was Don Blakey, a 78-year-old Kent County Republican. Coming out of the election, both were gone.
On Election Day in 2016, there are nine legislators at least 70 years old with terms that will be up. They would have to be regarded as prime possibilities for retirement, voluntary or otherwise.
In the Senate, they would be Bruce Ennis, Dave McBride and Harris McDowell, all Democrats, and in the House of Representatives, they would be Stephanie Bolden, James "JJ" Johnson and John Kowalko on the Democratic side of the aisle and Harvey Kenton, Joe Miro and Jack Peterman on the Republican side.
Cathy Cloutier, a Republican senator from Brandywine Hundred, could be excused if she comes down with a case of triskaidekaphobia, the fear of 13.
With the last election, the 21-member Senate dropped from 13 Democrats to 12, depriving them of the super-majority needed to pass tax bills by a three-fifths vote, and they want it back.
It is easy to see the Democrats determining to regain that 13th seat by ousting Cloutier, who would be the only Republican senator on the ballot from New Castle County, which is a Democratic bastion nowadays, emphatically so in a presidential year like 2016.
Still, Cloutier has been in the legislature since 1998, when she took over from her late husband. She is a household name in Brandywine Hundred and would be tough to dislodge.
Visions of Higher Office Dancing in Their Heads
Never mind that the last legislator elected to statewide office was Ruth Ann Minner, who did it in 1992. From her seat as a Democratic senator, she went on to be a two-term lieutenant governor and two-term governor.
Legislators can dream, right?
Like Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker? Bryon Short, a Democratic representative? They would open up spots on the legislative ballot if they ran statewide.
Colin Bonini and Greg Lavelle, Republican senators in the middle of their terms? Ditto for Bryan Townsend, a Democratic senator?
If one or more mid-term senators won statewide, there would not even be a pause in the political calendar. Special elections! Oy.