Posted: Feb. 15, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Colin Bonini has run for state senator before. He has run for state treasurer before. He has some designs on running for both offices again.

It gets trickier because he has this idea he might want to run for both at the same time.

Bonini for state senator in 2014? Also Bonini for state treasurer in 2014?

Bonini, a conservative Republican, has been a senator since 1994 from a Kent County district, a rough half-moon of an area that currently takes in Little Creek, Dover Air Force Base, Camden-Wyoming and Frederica.

He came tantalizingly close to being elected treasurer in 2010, when he polled 49 percent against Chip Flowers, the Democrat who won his first term, and there are plenty of Republicans who think the outcome could have been different if Mike Castle had led their ticket, not Christine O'Donnell.

Bonini was in the middle of a four-year Senate term when he ran for treasurer, but because of a shortened term after redistricting, he will be up for re-election in 2014 when the treasurer's office is on the ballot again.

Bonini has always bounded through Delaware politics in a sort of Falstaffian romp, a big California boy by birth, busting out of his stuffings.

In the Senate, he sits in the "Row of No," the back seats occupied by downstate conservative Republicans who vote against a lot of what the Democratic senators in the majority bring up. Even so, he infuriated his fellow Republicans by casting the deciding vote a session ago to keep Tony DeLuca as the Democratic president pro tem, whose tough-guy ways cost him his seat in 2012.

Bonini also sent $500 from Responsible Delaware PAC, his political action committee, to Charles Potter, a Democrat elected a state representative from Wilmington in 2012. (No Republican was hurt, because there was not one running in the crushingly Democratic city district.)

It was an odd contribution, from a downstate Republican to a city Democrat, but Bonini says they got to know one another during the treasurer's race. Velda Jones-Potter, who is married to Potter, lost to Flowers in the Democratic primary. The enemy of my enemy is my friend?

Still, two races for two state offices at once is real excess, even for Bonini.

"Who knows if that's going to happen or not? It's too early to talk about," Bonini said.

Oddly enough, it is probably legal to try.

"There's no law, because who would think somebody would run for two offices?" said Elaine Manlove, the state election commissioner.

Somebody has, of course, somebody extremely well-known around here. Joe Biden ran for senator and vice president on the Democratic ticket in 2008, but it was different. It has practically become a custom for vice presidential candidates.

Paul Ryan did it in a losing cause for the Republicans in 2012 and went back to being a Wisconsin congressman, and Joe Lieberman did the same for the Democrats in 2000 and returned as a Connecticut senator.

What would not be legal would be for Bonini to hold two offices at once. The state constitution expressly forbids legislators from dual office-holding. If he somehow pulled this feat off, he would have to forfeit one of the offices, presumably state senator.

Some other states have resign-to-run laws, meaning officeholders running mid-term for a different office have to give up the one they have. For Bonini, it would be run-to-resign.

There are obviously plenty of complications and obstacles in Bonini's way.

While there is a 1980 attorney general's opinion saying there is no law against running twice in a general election, the opinion also says there does appear to be a restriction on dual candidacies in a primary election. This means other Republican candidates could derail Bonini.

The politics would be even more perilous with a potential backlash against someone open to being criticized for getting so grabby and gaming the system, not to mention maybe forcing the hassle and cost of a special election on forsaken constituents.

"Trust the people. They'll decide what's best," Bonini said.

It probably should come as no surprise that election officials are looking to change the law to prohibit a double run -- "just part of cleaning up the system," said Manlove, the commissioner.

Meanwhile, election officials have something of a procedure if somebody were to try to file twice.

In Bonini's case, he would have to file for treasurer at the state election department and for senator at the Kent County election department. Whatever the order, the officials at his first stop would accept the paperwork, but the officials at his second stop would seek guidance from the Attorney General's Office.

Translation: Let the lawyers sort it out.

The election officials actually did accept double candidacies before. It was a minor subplot in the last election. It involved Libertarians, however, so hardly anybody noticed.

The Libertarians had Margaret McKeown for lieutenant governor and state representative and David Eisenhour for insurance commissioner and Sussex County clerk of the peace. The best they did was top two percent of the vote.

John Brady, the Democrat elected the Sussex clerk of the peace, has firsthand knowledge of a race that includes a dual candidate. Reflecting on it Thursday, he spoke like a man whose job it was to be awash in the romance of Valentine's Day weddings.

"At some debates, Eisenhour got double time, but all is fair on this Valentine's Day and politics," Brady quipped.

Easy for him to say. He won.