Posted: Feb. 22, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Without Connecticut, Tom Carper would not be a committee chair in the Senate.

Not without Connecticut politicians going back more than 200 years. Not without the Connecticut voters of today.

If it seems strange for another state to count so much for a Delawarean, it should also be remembered that Carper is the living, breathing personification of the reason his home state was the first to ratify the Constitution.

Carper became the new chair of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee when the new congressional session began last month in Washington.

It only took him 10 years in the House of Representatives plus 12 years in the Senate, not to mention eight years as governor in between, to build the seniority to get there. Also Connecticut.

Delaware is a very small state. It would be lost in the great throngs of the larger states if not for the Constitutional Convention of 1897 and the Connecticut Compromise, also called the Great Compromise, proposed by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to split the Congress into two chambers with equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House.

That, and Gunning Bedford Jr. bellowing at the delegates from the larger states on behalf of Delaware and the smaller states, "I do not, gentlemen, trust you," and the very real fear the new country could break apart if the Connecticut Compromise were not adopted.

People can look it up in Miracle at Philadelphia, a book by Catherine Drinker Bowen on the Constitutional Convention.

With the Connecticut Compromise in there, Delaware could not wait to ratify the Constitution. The state knew a good deal when it saw one.

Some 200 years later, the Connecticut voters took it the rest of the way for Carper to get his gavel.

Homeland Security was chaired beforehand by Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, but after he lost a Democratic primary and had to scramble desperately to get back to the Senate as an independent in 2006, he did not run in 2012. Carper was in line to take over.

Carper spoke Thursday about his new assignment at a Wilmington Rotary Club meeting, attended by about 150 people at the Hotel du Pont's Gold Ballroom, probably the one place in the state as ornate as a Senate committee room can be.

There was a time when Delaware got very used to having its senators chair committees -- with Bill Roth running one when the Republicans had the majority and Joe Biden when the Democrats did.

Tenure Senator Committee
1981-1987 Roth Governmental Affairs
1987-1995 Biden Judiciary
1995-2000 Roth

Governmental Affairs


2001-2003 Biden Foreign Relations
2007-2009 Biden Foreign Relations
2013 Carper Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs

Then Roth lost to Carper in 2000, and Biden was elected vice president in 2008, and although Biden has kept a hand in as a sort of super-senator from Delaware, the state no longer had the clout of immediacy a committee chair could bring.

"The chair is very important," said Mike Castle, the Republican ex-congressman and ex-governor.

"They set the agenda of what is being considered in the Congress. The chair does have to answer to the leadership. Then you have the president, too. So sometimes it's not quite as independent as you might think."

This is not to downplay the potency of the gavel. As a matter of fact, Delaware did quite well for itself as Chris Coons, the other Democratic senator, just became the chair of a subcommittee overseeing bankruptcy.

The federal Bankruptcy Court here has long been known as a destination for complex corporate bankruptcy cases and contributes to the state's storied reputation for business law. It is often under assault from other states coveting a piece of its docket -- which led the Wall Street Journal to note recently that any changes would have to "get past" Coons.

"Obviously with Coons there, it puts us in a much safer position, if you will," Castle said.

Carper is presiding at the same committee where Roth did, except that its jurisdiction was expanded to homeland security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Carper says they wound up with the same committee because of their shared interest in government operations, namely ways to cut down on waste, fraud and spending and improve efficiency.

"Bill Roth was interested in what I'm interested in, which is getting the taxpayers' their money's worth," Carper said.

A lot of the committee's jurisdiction matters in Delaware -- like cyber security to protect the intellectual property of companies like DuPont in Wilmington, and immigration policies affecting the poultry plants in Sussex County, and how about the post office, so all those legislators in Dover can get their campaign mailers out at election time?

"There are huge implications for Delaware," Carper said.

Because of Connecticut Yankees, it is all in play in Tom Carper's court.