Posted: March 16, 2011
A SIGN OF SPRING
By Celia Cohen
Spring brings wisps of green to weeping willows. It means March Madness, Daylight Saving Time and St. Patrick's Day.
It also marks the return of the Delaware General Assembly to Dover. Oh well, even spring has to have a discouraging word somewhere.
The legislature's first day back from a six-week break for budget hearings was Tuesday, and it had all the energy of a yawn. After all of the snow and the shivering cold snap, people acted not quite awake from a long winter's nap.
There was a press conference here on foreclosures, and a lone bill there on drug offenses in the House of Representatives, but the Senate did not even have an agenda.
Still, it might have been the best legislative day ever in the brief tenure of Harvey Kenton, a Milford Republican who is mere months into his first term as a Republican representative. Miss Delaware was visiting Legislative Hall, and he had the bragging rights. He is her great-uncle.
Barely a skeleton crew of lobbyists bothered to show up. One of them was Mike Begatto, the executive director of the public employees union, although he could have been invisible for all the attention he attracted. Read it and weep, Wisconsin.
The only bustle was in the vicinity of the governor's office. Jack Markell, the Democratic governor halfway through his first term, prowled the hallway outside his office and met with people inside. This was not surprising.
The governor always gives the impression he is on a war footing. There are no days to spare. He acts as though he has to work hard, or the next job lost could be his own.
The return to Dover also meant the tipoff of the annual spring fund-raiser follies. By one count, there were 22 receptions scheduled between now and the end of April, the better for the legislators to get into the lobbyists' wallets when the lobbyists need the legislators the most.
The first one Tuesday evening was a joint fund-raiser for Helene Keeley and Mike Mulrooney, a pair of Democratic representatives, at McGlynns Pub alongside Silver Lake. It had all the signs of a tune-up for St. Patrick's Day. If it was not quite time for the wearing o' the green, it was fine for the lobbyists' bearing o' the green.
It would not be Legislative Hall without at least some petty skullduggery. This one involved an old trick of time travel.
By longstanding practice, the Senate and the House do not adjourn one legislative day until they are ready to begin another. This meant the legislative calendar technically still read January 26, the last day before the break, when the lawmakers assembled on Tuesday.
People who did not get to Dover back on January 26 -- because of slick roads or sickness or something better to do -- could still be marked present, and they were.
Hey, it helps the attendance record. Do the voters have to know everything?
There are legitimate reasons for an absence, of course, and so the House had to return to a new sick call. Debra Heffernan, a Democratic representative from Brandywine Hundred, went on it, absent from Dover because she tripped and broke her leg. JoAnn Hedrick, the chief clerk emeritus, went off it, back in Dover after missing all of January because of a fall that broke both ankles.
Hedrick is getting around with the help of a Roll-A-Bout, a type of walker-scooter combination made by a company in Frederica. It was good, but not quite good enough to get her up a short series of steps to her customary place on the podium. The House does have a ramp it uses to wheel up a file cabinet of legislation, but it is steep.
"We didn't want to bring her up the way we do the bills, because we're afraid she'll go backward," quipped Bob Gilligan, the Democratic speaker.
As always, each chamber opened its proceedings with a prayer, offered by a member. Greg Lavelle, the House Republican minority leader, and Margaret Rose Henry, the Senate Democratic majority whip, prayed in bipartisan symmetry for the people in Japan.
If it could help, then the legislature did have a good day.