Posted: March 29, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Legislative Hall is not a place where leadership seats grow cold. It is where the action is.

Not surprisingly at all, the leadership bazaar is already opening for the next session for the Republicans in the state House of Representatives, where it is anybody's guess who will be the minority leader and the minority whip.

Greg Lavelle, the current minority leader from Brandywine Hundred, is running for the state Senate, and it is just a matter of time before Gerald Hocker, the minority whip from Sussex County, owns up to running for the other chamber, as well.

The seat beckoning to Hocker is open, due to the retirement of George Bunting, a Democratic senator, and the pull is irresistible. Physics or politics, the law of gravity does not get repealed.

The pool of potential leadership for the House Republicans is not very big. There are only 15 of them today in the 41-member chamber, and three of them for sure will not be around to answer the roll call in 2013.

That would be Lavelle, Hocker and whoever loses the Republican primary between Nick Manolakos and Joe Miro, a pair of state representatives tossed together by redistricting into a Hockessin-Pike Creek Valley seat.

Not that Miro is expected to wind up in leadership, even if he is the one who returns. He has come to be known as "Trader Joe" for the obvious reason.

One of the regulars around Legislative Hall quipped, "It won't be Joe Miro, because he can't get anything for it. Joe, what would you give me for voting for Joe?"

It is a cinch the next leaders will be drawn from legislators who are there now. Sure, Mike Castle could decide he wants to take his old seat back from Gerald Brady, a Democratic state representative from Wilmington, and vault himself into the House Republican leadership, but this seems to be one of those occasions where it is actually safe to say never.

The odds are good the caucus will choose from a field of four, pairing an upstater and a downstater as it does now. The upstaters are Debbie Hudson from Greenville and Mike Ramone from Pike Creek Valley. The downstaters are Ruth Briggs King from Georgetown and Dan Short from Seaford.

Hudson, who is second in seniority in the Republican caucus, was elected in 1994. Short, who was the whip in the last session, went to Dover in 2006, Ramone in 2008, and Briggs King in a special election in 2009.

There also has been some talk about Lincoln Willis, who is from Clayton, but he is in his first term with a new baby and a car business. It means his time is probably later rather than sooner.

If Briggs King and/or Hudson get into the leadership, it would be historic. Although the other three caucuses in the Delaware General Assembly currently have women in leadership roles, the House Republicans have not put one there since the 1950s.

The last one was Vera Davis, a Kent County Republican. Not only was she the House majority leader, but also the Senate president pro tem and the first woman ever to be elected statewide when she won the race for treasurer in 1956.

Short waved off any discussion about leadership -- "awful early to think about that" -- but the others acknowledged their interest.

Briggs King: "First I have to finish out the term and get elected. It's very humbling to be considered. I've tried to work hard, and I'm not afraid to take on hard issues."

Hudson: "I've run enough pieces of legislation, I feel like I could take on the goals of my party and my caucus. The whole art of negotiation takes a while to learn here."

Ramone: "If I can help the party, I'd be very interested in doing it, but I respect seniority in New Castle County, and if any of my colleagues want the position, I would step back."

The candidates are not specifying which leadership position they are thinking about. For one thing, it leaves room to deal. For another, it lets people pussyfoot around the situation that nobody expects the Republicans to be electing a speaker.