Posted: March 31, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans' absence of a prime candidate for governor has been well-chronicled. Less so is their void for lieutenant governor, too.

It is not just the reduced interest in an office whose occupant generally is regarded as a glorified spare part in case something happens to the governor. It is also the way the lieutenant governor has come to be selected.

The state constitution provides for the governor and lieutenant governor to be elected separately. With politicians being what they are, the reasoning is that more check-and-balance only can help. In recent years, though, the lieutenant governor essentially has had a constituency of one.

Whomever the gubernatorial candidates wanted, the parties and the voters ratified their choices in each election since 1988, in reckless disregard for the 111-year-old warning written into the constitution. Castle-Wolf for the Republicans. Carper-Minner and Minner-Carney for the Democrats.

Because of  the disarray with Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell for governor, the Democrats are going in a different direction this time. The disorder has created an opening for Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn and Wilmington Council President Ted Blunt to tussle for the nomination for lieutenant governor, rather than wait to be asked. It happens.

The Republicans, meanwhile, planned to do things the new-fashioned way. Never mind that it has not exactly worked for their side. Extra credit for anyone who can recall the running mate for Bill Lee in 2004, let alone the one for Janet Rzewnicki in 1996.(What? Rzewnicki ran for governor, in addition to being state treasurer? Yes, with Sherman Miller. Lee's sidekick was Jim Ursomarso.)

The Republicans thought they had their man for governor with Alan Levin, and he was going to have the same free rein to find someone for lieutenant governor that he had when he looked for new locations for the Happy Harry's drugstores he once operated.

When Levin imploded his own candidacy in January, it not only left the Republicans with a black hole for governor but also sucked away an orderly search for lieutenant governor.

With bedlam for governor since then, as one prospect after another rejected the race, from Lee to Speaker Terry Spence to state Rep. Donna Stone, the blank ballot for lieutenant governor has been an afterthought. There is only some rumbling from Eric Buckson, a Kent County Levy Court rookie commissioner with a pedigree for the post, held in the 1950s by his father Dave Buckson.

Levin, as he acknowledged in an interview Monday, had a short list for lieutenant governor. Like a royal family, he had divided them into heirs and spares.

The heirs, the ones Levin had under serious consideration, were state Rep. Danny Short, a first-termer who was Seaford's ex-mayor, and state Rep. Greg Lavelle, a Brandywine Hundred legislator since 2000.

The spares, other names that were bandied about, were Stone and Michael Fleming, once an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Bill Roth.

Levin approached both Short and Lavelle. As an outsider in Legislative Hall, he saw their political experience as balance for a ticket. His dialogue with Short got far enough along to do some polling. Both declined, Lavelle in December and Short in January briefly before Levin himself exited.

Despite the Democrats' lengthy head start on lieutenant governor, neither gave fear of losing as a reason. It was family and business for Short, who runs an insurance agency that always has two or three grandchildren around, as well as for Lavelle, who works for an investment management firm. In addition for Short, it was too early in his legislative career to be moving up or out.

Short explained, "I was certainly in awe of the fact that Alan would even have asked me. I thought it was a little overzealous for me, and I thought I could help Alan if he was governor by helping him in the legislature."

Lavelle said, "I was thrilled Alan decided to speak to me. Right now the demands for statewide office are too much for my family and business. Even when we recruit for legislative races, I tell people it's not worth getting divorced over."

Levin's dealings were more arm's length with Stone and Fleming -- despite the willingness of both of them to leave an impression out there that they were a likely choice. Stone sent mixed messages, first indicating she did not have time for a statewide campaign because she is serving as the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures and then signaling she would be willing to talk about it.

"Clearly the individuals I centered on most were Danny and Greg," Levin said. "Donna was out of it because of NCSL. That's what we were told from the beginning. The only one who appeared to be anxious to step up was Michael."

Short and Lavelle were not the only ones staying put because of family. Levin cited a reluctance to force a seismic shift on his own home life as prime in his decision to keep to the political sidelines.

There has not been another peep about a gubernatorial ticket. The Republicans like to pride themselves on their family values, but they could use some candidates. Otherwise, this is a case of pride goeth before a fall to the Democrats in November.