Posted: March 15, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Before there are roll calls, there is the seating chart, and the seating chart is a window into the workings of the Delaware General Assembly.

Some of it is obvious. The lieutenant governor and the speaker presiding from the podiums. Majority on one side, minority on the other, leadership up front, rookies mostly in the back. Senior members snaring the desks on the aisles in the seating for 62 legislators, 21 of them in the Senate and 41 in the House of Representatives.

Still, there is more to it. Where they sit is where they stand.

Here are some statements the seating inside Legislative Hall in Dover is making.

POWER CORNERS. Like the corner offices in corporate suites, the prime location in the two chambers belongs to the corner desks along the center aisles in the front. It is a bit of  future shock to see women claiming them for the first time in state history.

Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem, occupies the seat in the Senate, and Valerie Longhurst, the Democratic majority leader who runs the floor action, has the one in the House. This is not your father's legislature.

FOLLOW THE MONEY. Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker, put new people in charge of the money committees, the joint panels that draft the state's operating and construction budgets. Melanie George Smith is the Democratic co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, and Quin Johnson is the Democratic co-chair of the Bond Bill Committee.

You can see the rookie co-chairs figuring it out together, their desks side by side, in the second row right behind the leadership. If not quite the power corners, they have become the money seats.

CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION. Once upon a time, when the Republicans were last in the House majority, the aisle seat in the back row was commandeered by Bill Oberle, a master legislator who was a power unto himself. He could make or break deals, as contrarian as he wanted to be.

With Oberle retired and the House in Democratic control, the seat was taken over by Helene Keeley, who narrowly lost the vote for speaker. This desk is starting to look permanently contrarian, maybe even downright sulky these days. Tread softly around here.

ROW OF NO. The back seats on the Republican side in the Senate are well-known as the Row of No, the place where downstate conservatives sit and vote against a lot of stuff proposed by the Democrats. The current occupants are Colin Bonini, Dave Lawson and Brian Pettyjohn.

By the time the legislature considers bills this session on taxes, same-sex marriage, guns, the death penalty and minimum wage, those back seats might well reach the limits of the Row of No, No, a Thousand Times No.

ROW OF NO, JR. The back seats on the Republican side in the House have gone to Tim Dukes, Ron Gray and Steve Smyk, an all-rookie lineup of downstate conservatives. They could turn into another Row of No themselves, not counting a fourth seat back there. That seat is . . .

NEARER THE DEMOCRATS TO THEE. The House Republicans' last row is also home to Mike Ramone. He is a moderate. Furthermore, he is the only one of the three upstate Republican representatives whose district has more Democratic than Republican voters in it.

Ramone has planted himself in a desk along the center aisle, as close to the Democratic side as he can get without actually sitting there. It does not look like an accident, does it?