Posted: March 7, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. Nancy Wagner has been grappling with enemy Democrats and accusatory press coverage, all to be expected for a Republican who has made her way in Delaware politics with the subtlety of a blunderbuss.

Her foray for a ninth term from her Dover district was not supposed to be encumbered further by a pack from her own party piling on, but so it appears.

This new hindrance comes in the form of a condemnatory letter that expresses "grave concern" over public officials who broker public paychecks for themselves or their family members. It does not specifically mention Wagner, an administrator at Delaware State University, and her husband Bud, a state video specialist, but they are the ones in the news, and the finger is pointing.

The letter, which found its way to Delaware Grapevine, was sent this week to state Rep. Dick Cathcart, the Middletown Republican who is the House majority leader, from 26 signers collectively naming themselves "ReGRO," or Republicans for Government Responsibility & Openness.

The group leaders are Jim Ursomarso, who was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2004, and Michael Fleming, who is a former aide to the late U.S. Sen. Bill Roth and might have run for lieutenant governor this year if Alan Levin had not dropped out of the governor's race.

Levin also signed, as did people like Ernie Lopez, the 2004 Republican candidate for New Castle County Council president, Dave Burris, the Sussex County Republican ex-chair, and Ben du Pont, the son of the former governor.

The letter pulses with nervousness that the Republicans could lose their slender 22-19 majority in the state House of Representatives, their last bulwark against a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and Senate in Legislative Hall in Dover.

It all but suggests throwing Nancy Wagner from the ramparts so the rest of the Republicans can save themselves.

"Our Republican majority in the House is in jeopardy. Yet we can make no claim to retain that leadership unless we are prepared to earn the people's trust. We urge you to act quickly and forcefully in taking a public stand against nepotism, cronyism and corruption," the letter says. It can be read in full by clicking here.

Cathcart was not available Thursday or Friday for comment, but Wagner was. In the eat-or-be-eaten world of politics, she had no reservations about defending herself and Bud.

"I don't know if they just wanted to spout about good government and use me as a scapegoat," Wagner said. "These are not my constituents. All I know is, I work for my folks, and I'm going to keep working for them, and I'm going to run for re-election, and I'm going to get re-elected."

Wagner noted the letter took no issue with officeholders or their family members with the qualifications to get onto the public payroll -- which she asserted gave clearance to Bud, who has a background in the cable industry.

It should be mentioned that roughly a third of the state legislators have state-related jobs, are retired from state-related jobs or have relatives with state-related jobs, and "qualifications" are cited routinely as the reason for it. Qualifications are not a bar, but a loophole.

In a telephone interview, Ursomarso downplayed the inferences to be made about Wagner and said the letter was supposed to be a private communication, advisory in nature and not a public scolding. (Never mind that letters like this one never remain secret for long.)

"We're not accusing anybody of doing anything wrong. It's saying, maybe we have to do a little more than what's required by law, so everyone could have faith in their public officials," Ursomarso said.

"It's really a party-building effort that we're engaged in. The letter was designed to be internal, Republican to Republican. We need to have something that people are for. Republicans should stand for good government."

Wagner had news for Ursomarso and the other signers. She derided their letter as counterproductive. If they want Republicans to enact Republican principles into policy, they have to elect Republicans to do it.

Wagner represents a Kent County district with a Democratic registration edge, and she is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Darryl Scott, a businessman who is a Capital School Board member. She is the one who has kept the district in the Republican column since 1992.

If other Republicans turn on her, the House majority could turn, too. "If I'm not there, they're going to lose the seat," Wagner said.

When good government runs into practical politics, it is never a pretty sight.