Posted: March 31, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

John C. Atkins did not show up Saturday afternoon at the Millsboro Civic Center for a meeting of the Republicans from the 41st Representative District, which was his base. Maybe this sorry scandal really was over.

Atkins gave the Republicans a case of the jitters for a day or so after he resigned in disgrace by making noises about running as a minor-party or write-in candidate in the special election for the seat in south central Sussex County.

His party worried that Atkins could stir up resentment toward the state House of Representatives, which was moving toward expelling him if he did not quit, by demanding to know if the voters were going to let the legislators in Dover tell them who their representative could be. It was the sort of thing that could siphon off enough votes to cost the Republicans the election.

After resigning on Tuesday, Atkins finally let go on Thursday. He telephoned John R. Matlusky, the Republican national committeeman who also is the policy director for the House Republican majority, and said he would not be a candidate for the seat he first won in 2002.

Atkins also called Ronald Sams, who chairs the 41st District Republicans, and gave him the same message. "He said to me he was not going to run, and he would support the candidate we brought forth. I take him at his word," Sams said.

Atkins told Sams he was turning off his cell phone and leaving for Florida with his wife Heather, who was dragged into this episode, too. It was John Atkins' arrest Oct. 29 for fighting with her that unraveled his political career, as it slowly but steadily became known that he had thrown around his influence and stonewalled about a traffic stop for possible drunken driving in Ocean City, Md., as well as the domestic-violence incident.

With Atkins out of the way, Sams convened a meeting Saturday to look for a new candidate for the special election, which he said is scheduled tentatively for Saturday, May. 5.

Atkins' resignation was not only an embarrassment but also politically costly for his party, which otherwise had come to count on Atkins, who is only 36, to roll up better than 60 percent of the vote, even though the district has almost 500 more Democrats than Republicans in it.

The meeting drew about 35 people, but there was no open discussion about who might run. Sams asked for names to be given to him privately and promised to set up a five- or six-person committee to come up with someone.

One possible choice was in attendance -- J. Scott Evans, who was the candidate in 2000, the last time Democrat Charles P. West ran before retiring. West, who is 85, had a term in the House in the 1950s and then a string of them from 1978 until he stepped down.

Other Republicans who have been mentioned are Gregory A. Hastings, a state school board member, and Bradley H. Layfield, who lost a Republican primary for a county row office in 2000 to John F. Brady, now the Sussex recorder of deeds and a House Republican attorney. Brady also was Atkins' lawyer for a time.

The Democrats are scheduled to begin their search for a candidate on Thursday. Names are scant for them, too -- although West stoked speculation that he might run when he was seen roaming Legislative Hall on the day Atkins resigned. He would not talk about it, however.

Whatever happens in the special election, the Republicans still will be in charge of the 41-member House. Until earlier this month, they had a 23-18 edge over the Democrats, but it shriveled to 21-18 with the resignations of not only Atkins but former Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith, who will be replaced April 14 in a special election in Brandywine Hundred.

With two seats on the line, the Republicans' control may not be in jeopardy, but their comfort certainly is.