Posted: March 26, 2007
SHOWDOWN IN LEGISLATIVE HALL
By Celia Cohen
The state House of Representatives is going into session Tuesday in a state of high anxiety over what to do about Rep. John C. Atkins, the troubled Millsboro Republican who has roiled the chamber by forcing it into the unprecedented reaches of disciplining one of their own.
It is a crisis with no certain conclusion at this time.
A false sense of relief spread briefly Monday amid inklings that Atkins was thinking about resigning, but it was shot down. Charles M. Oberly III, the former Democratic attorney general who is Atkins' lawyer, said his client was not leaving.
A censure resolution, introduced last week with the bipartisan backing of the House leadership, probably is dead. It ran into stormy resistance for not being severe enough when it was presented to closed-door caucuses of both the Republican majority and the Democratic minority.
A vote for expulsion, which requires a two-thirds super majority of 28 out of 41 votes, does not appear to have enough support yet, but it may be gaining momentum because of indications that there is new and damaging information about Atkins' late-night fight with his wife, coming to light five months after his arrest.
The House has had it with the drip-drip-drip of new revelations, and it is sick of dealing with nothing but Atkins, to the point that no other work is getting done.
Atkins originally tried to pass off his misconduct Oct. 29 as nothing more than an unfortunate domestic incident, which he squared when he was sentenced to probation for offensive touching.
Next came the belated acknowledgement of a traffic stop earlier that night for speeding and possible drunken driving in Ocean City, Md., and still later came accounts that he used his office to appeal for leniency with both the Ocean City and Millsboro police.
Most recently legislators learned that Atkins defied the Ocean City police, who had let him go once he found a designated driver, by getting back behind the wheel in Delaware, and that he filed a misleading affidavit with the House Ethics Committee.
Calls for Atkins to resign have gone unheeded -- even one over the weekend from Sussex County Republican Chair David M. Burris, who said in a letter to the House Republicans that if Atkins will not resign, he should be expelled.
It is unclear what will happen Tuesday when the House convenes with the censure resolution ready for consideration. The way it begins may not be the way that it ends.
"As of right now, the intent would be to work the [censure] resolution, but we will go into caucus first," said Republican Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart.
Once there, Cathcart believes that Burris' letter will be discussed and may change minds.
"That's a significant development. Either they're going to be very, very mad with Dave Burris for doing this, or they're going to agree with it 100 percent," Cathcart said.
"I'm going into tomorrow with a little anxiety myself, because I'm not sure how it's going to shake out."