Posted: March 25, 2007
SUSSEX REPUBLICAN CHAIR CALLS FOR JOHN ATKINS' OUSTER
By Celia Cohen
The rippling clamor to get state Rep. John C. Atkins, R-Probation, out of the legislature did not even take the weekend off, as his own Republican county chair chose Sunday to call for his resignation or expulsion.
David M. Burris, elected as the Sussex County Republican chair only last month, became the first party official to go public with his disenchantment.
Burris used his blog, "First State Politics," to make his position known -- probably another first for a blog to have a seminal impact in Delaware politics.
In a posting titled "In Honor of Those Who Came Before," Burris invoked the public and charitable works of his great-grandfather, grandfather and father, two of whom served in the General Assembly, for his own inspiration "to do the right thing."
Burris wrote that he was sending a letter to House Speaker Terry R. Spence and the rest of the Republican majority caucus with the message, "Demand John Atkins' resignation or vote to expel him." The letter is posted on Burris' Web site.
Whatever its effect on the House members, Atkins is unmoved. "He's not resigning," said Charles M. Oberly III, the former Democratic attorney general who is his lawyer.
No member of the House Republican leadership could be reached Sunday evening for comment.
Burris' blog is the most emphatic sign yet that Atkins' days in the state House of Representatives appear to be numbered, the upshot of throwing his influence around in an Oct. 29 spree that stretched from a traffic stop in Ocean City, Md., to an arrest in Millsboro for a domestic fight, as well as the ensuing cover-up that included a misleading affidavit filed with the House Ethics Committee.
Burris' posting came three days after tumultuous closed-door meetings of the Republican and Democratic caucuses, with many members heatedly rejecting the leadership's recommendation to censure Atkins and calling instead for his expulsion.
Atkins, now in his third term, has said he would accept the censure and some other sanctions. Oberly said that Atkins' level of misconduct -- a misdemeanor that got him sentenced to a year of probation -- does not warrant more.
The insistence on ousting Atkins was so strong among his fellow Republicans that their leadership -- Spence, Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart and Majority Whip Clifford G. "Biff" Lee -- left the caucus room to approach Atkins privately and ask him to consider resigning.
Going into the weekend, a bipartisan coalition of representatives was a handful of votes away from having the two-thirds super majority -- 28 out of the 41 House members -- needed for expulsion.
With Burris' push, the votes may get closer yet.