Posted: Feb. 18, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The bar is not exactly set very high for Delaware's next lieutenant governor. All it takes for an upgrade right now is a warm body.

The Democrats did get that, when all six of their candidates for lieutenant governor showed up for a forum, hosted by the New Castle County party organization on Wednesday evening in a union hall south of Newark in Glasgow.

Which is still more than what the Republicans have got. They got nothing. No candidates.

What an office this is. Nobody is in it. No Republican wants to be. It has been abandoned for more than a year now, ever since Matt Denn decided mid-term it would be better if he was the Democratic attorney general, and 53 percent of the voters who went to the polls in 2014 agreed with him.

The delegates who wrote the state Constitution of 1897 could not be bothered to figure out a way to replace a departed lieutenant governor, nor could the contemporary General Assembly, which gave it some thought after it became apparent Denn could be exiting, only to just shrug.

It means the Delawarean charged with the responsibility of inquiring after the governor's health is Jeff Bullock, the secretary of state, as the officeholder who moves to the top of the gubernatorial succession in the absence of a lieutenant governor.

That, along with presiding over the state Senate and the Board of Pardons, is the entire constitutional workload for this part-time statewide office, which Delaware elects separately from the governor.

Into this political abyss marched the six Democratic candidates with a pulse.

Sherry Dorsey Walker, giving up a perfectly good seat on the Wilmington Council to run. Brad Eaby, mid-term on the Kent County Levy Court. Greg Fuller, once appointed to fill a term as the Sussex County register of wills. Bethany Hall-Long, a mid-term state senator. Kathy McGuiness, a Rehoboth Beach commissioner. Ciro Poppiti III, mid-term as the New Castle County register of wills.

There were so many of them, they looked like a little local version of a Republican presidential debate, except if nobody calls out anybody else as "low energy" or "loser," does it still count as a political showdown?

"You have six great candidates to choose from for your lieutenant governor," Eaby said.

Interest was high. About 200 people came to watch, even though the primary is months away on Sept. 13. It may be lieutenant governor, but a statewide office is still a statewide office.

Hall-Long appeared to be channeling Matt Denn, who dealt with the modest demands of the office with extracurricular activity, in his case, by promising to make Delaware a better place for children. Hall-Long, a nursing professor at the University of Delaware, went with her own strength.

"I am running for the health of Delaware," Hall-Long said.

Eaby and Poppiti, who are lawyers, sounded animated by the prospect of sitting on the Board of Pardons, which also includes the chancellor, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor, to recommend clemency to the governor, who has the last word.

They want changes, though, in the board's meetings, which are held once a month in Dover. Eaby wants to schedule more sessions. Poppiti wants the board to sit upstate.

Fuller and McGuiness, answering a question from the crowd, both declared the state budget should not be balanced at a cost to state workers. Not that anyone is likely to care what they think about the state budget if either of them becomes the lieutenant governor.

Dorsey Walker got a rise from the crowd when she put her approach to the office this way: "The best man for the job just so happens to be this woman."

The lot of lieutenant governors is to be forgettable for the work they did in office, but memorable if they went on to something else.

This would be the lieutenant governors like Mike Castle as a future Republican governor and congressman, Ruth Ann Minner as a Democratic governor, John Carney as a Democratic congressman now running to be the next governor, and Denn as the attorney general.

It shows what the voters want in a lieutenant governor. Happiness is more than a warm body.