Posted: March 10, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Republicans have been bracing for years for a Democratic assault against state Sen. Steve Amick, a mild-mannered lawmaker who has represented Newark and points south for 22 years.

This could be the year.

State Rep. Bethany Hall-Long, a Middletown Democrat, is in the throes of deciding whether to give up a safe seat for a race against Amick and a shot at exchanging a two-year term in the House of Representatives for a four-year term in the Senate.

Her decision making is far enough along that the two legislators, who share some constituents and a cordial relationship, at least until now, met recently for coffee in Newark with Hall-Long giving Amick fair warning. She downplayed it, but he took it seriously.

"Steve and I meet routinely. I mentioned to him that people are approaching me to run. I do not know at this time," Hall-Long said.

"She had some enthusiasm for running for the seat. It's not a surprise," Amick said.

Amick, a 60-year-old retired lawyer, is known for a sense of civility that is common in Delaware courtrooms but stands out in the cutthroat politics of Legislative Hall.

He has been a potential target ever since redistricting early in the decade, when the Senate's Democratic majority set him up by pushing him into running in unfamiliar territory with the voter registration stacked against him. Currently the 10th Senatorial District has about 31,000 voters with 43 percent of them Democrats, 32 percent Republicans and 25 percent others.

Amick avoided the danger when the Democrats managed to field only a weak opponent in his last two elections, but Hall-Long would change that script.

First elected in 2002, Hall-Long is a 44-year-old nursing professor at the University of Delaware. In the General Assembly where the Senate zealously guards its designation as the upper chamber, Hall-Long has an unusual degree of acceptance there because of the care she took with state Sen. Jim Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who died of complications from throat cancer last year.

"She certainly made a great impression in the House. She is a very dedicated legislator. What I really respect is how great she was to Jim Vaughn during his long illness," said state Sen. Thurman Adams, the Democratic president pro tem from Bridgeville.

If Hall-Long runs for the Senate, it would not be without peril for the Democrats. They already have a 13-8 majority in the Senate, and one of their prime goals is to get one in the House, where the Republicans have a 22-19 margin. Hall-Long would be a virtual shoo-in for re-election -- she won in 2006 with 77 percent of the vote -- but an open seat would create a certain amount of risk for the Democrats, even though the registration is in their favor.

There would be bitter recrimination if the Democrats gained a Senate seat only to fall short of the House majority. Nor is there a guarantee that Hall-Long could win a Senate district that is nearly all new to her. Only a tiny corner of it sits in her House district.

Amick is not going without a fight. He is running again. Hall-Long may force him out of the seat someday, but their chat over coffee did not scare him out.

# # #

State Rep. Dick Cathcart, the House majority leader, has done what he can to defuse a letter unfavorable to state Rep. Nancy Wagner from some of their fellow Republicans.

The letter gave aid and comfort to the Democrats by dripping disapproval on Wagner over her husband Bud's state job as a video specialist in the prison system, although it did not mention Wagner by name.

The letter, sent last week, was signed by 26 people calling themselves "Republicans for Government Responsibility & Openness."

Cathcart answered with a letter of his own.

"Your letter incorrectly states that epilogue language was included in the state's operating budget to 'in effect guarantee a state employment position for a close relative of a member of the House.' This is false," Cathcart wrote.

"In reality, the epilogue language simply allows the position to be loaned to the Corrections Department from the Public Defender's Office. There is no new position being created and no guarantee of employment for a House member's relative as a result of this language."

What a relief. The state budget did not create a job for Bud, it only kept the one he already had.