Posted: March 20, 2008
By Celia Cohen
The Democrats are keeping the pressure on state Rep. Nancy Wagner, a Dover Republican with a household of very public his-and-her jobs.
In an approach akin to Wagner's own style of full-frontal politics, the Democrats took their campaign against her right to the steps of Legislative Hall in Dover, where about 40 of them gathered Wednesday at noon to have Darryl Scott, their candidate, officially declare for office.
No one overtly mentioned the political stew Wagner has been in, bubbling because of the job she landed at Delaware State University after the last election and the job embedded in the state budget for her husband Bud as a video specialist.
No one had to. Press coverage like this does it for the Democrats, out of necessity of providing context. The closest anyone came to mentioning the payrolling was Abby Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair, who cracked in a brief interview before Scott's announcement, "We'd like to say he'd bring integrity back to the district, but that wouldn't be very nice."
It should be mentioned that the Republicans also have done quite a bit to keep Wagner's situation front and center. Some two dozen of them formed "Republicans for Government Responsibility & Openness" to take a stand against nepotism -- this means you, Nancy Wagner -- and the House Republicans promoted a package of ethics bills that dredged up the matter again.
Yes, Wagner is a co-sponsor of the ethics legislation. Why not? Roughly one-third of the lawmakers have state-related jobs, used to have state-related jobs or have relatives with state-related jobs.
Darryl Scott is no Nancy Wagner. She is a loudspeaker. He is so soft-spoken, his words nearly were blown away in the March wind.
Scott, 44, is entering the race for the 31st Representative District from the Capital School District board. He is a manager in the Dover office for Sitel, an international call-center operation. Scott is running on an earnest platform of education, health care and prudent state spending, but what really matters is that he is not Nancy Wagner.
The effect of eight terms-worth of the Wagner treatment -- which one Legislative Hall recipient called being "Wagnerized" -- has left her without much sympathy. Instead, it has created a car-wreck curiosity of wondering whether she can bull her way back.
"Nancy's quite capable, and she's a good campaigner. She's taken a lot of abuse, but she's up to the task," said state Rep. Terry Spence, the Republican speaker. "People read all this stuff, and eventually they wonder why is all the focus on one person."
Much more is at stake than Wagner's political survival. Scott's candidacy is essential to the Democrats' determination to control the House of Representatives for the first time since the mid-1980s. They need to pick up two seats in the 41-member chamber, which is the last Republican bastion in Legislative Hall with the governor, lieutenant governor and state Senate all Democratic.
If there were any doubts about how important this race is, they were erased at Scott's announcement by the presence of both Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell, divided about who should be Delaware's next governor but united about winning the House.
"It is a district seat that people from Claymont to Laurel are looking at," said state Rep. Bob Gilligan, the Democratic minority leader who spoke at Scott's announcement.
Scott's election is Gilligan's election, too. It was made apparent by Brian Bushweller, a Democratic candidate for the state Senate, while addressing Gilligan at the announcement ceremony.
"I'm going to coin a term here," Bushweller said. "Mr. Imminent Speaker."
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Brian Selander is ending his part-time role as a sparring partner for Rick Jensen on WDEL 1150 AM. Against the odds, Selander brought an element of sanity to talk radio.
Selander has been in and out of the state political scene since 2000 -- from a debut with the campaign that turned Democrat Tom Carper from a governor into a U.S. senator, to an association as an adviser, sometimes formal and sometimes informal, to Jack Markell.
The last segment of the "Rick & Brian" show, which has been airing weekday afternoons since November, is Wednesday. Afterwards, Selander will devote his time to finishing up a master's degree in applied psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, helping some friends in a start-up business venture, and mostly caring for his new daughter, now six weeks old.
Selander, 31, of Brandywine Hundred, likes to say he took the radio assignment to stay involved in Delaware and to give the Democratic side of the argument on the airwaves, but he concedes his motivation actually was a little more basic.
"This is going to sound terrible, but I wanted to see if I could."
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Cross off the name of another Republican who could have run for governor.
When Alan Levin left a gaping crater in the field in January by blowing up the candidacy he was crafting, House Speaker Terry Spence mused about filling in.
It was nothing new. Spence has well-known ambitions for higher office. While they are persistent, they also have all the substance of Elvis sightings. This time was no different, as he acknowledged Wednesday in a casual conversation in Legislative Hall.
"I'm happy where I am," Spence said.