Posted: March 27, 2014
THE BONINI BILL
By Celia Cohen
There was no joy in Dover for Colin Bonini. He was struck out. His fellow legislators did it.
They are kayoing his designs on running simultaneously for two different offices this year.
Bonini, a Kent County Republican who lives near Camden, has been a state senator for 20 years. He was also his party's last candidate for treasurer, running mid-term from his legislative seat in 2010 and coming up a tantalizing 6,000 votes short against Chip Flowers, the Democrat who won.
Considering the way Flowers' term has gone, Bonini could have good cause for thinking there is a lot of voters' remorse among the electorate and it might not mind a do-over.
The treasurer's office has wobbled with issues involving personnel, travel and credit card use, and Flowers just recently lost a power struggle over the state's investment practices when the legislature stepped in and approved a new law to make him stop overreaching.
Not one legislator sided with Flowers. If Bonini was emboldened, he should have known better.
The Delaware General Assembly that encourageth can also discourageth. It did so with what has come to be called the "Bonini bill."
The legislation, designated House Bill 159, says a candidate should run with only one party for only one state or local office. This comes after a couple of Libertarian candidates ran for double offices in 2012, one filing for insurance commissioner and state representative and the other for lieutenant governor and Sussex County clerk of the peace.
It also says Bonini can kiss good-bye to the idea he was entertaining about running for both re-election and for treasurer in 2014, when his Senate seat and the treasurer's office are up.
Not that he could have served in both, had he won them both. The law is clear that nobody can hold two offices at the same time.
In a ringing vote of no-confidence for Bonini, the House of Representatives voted 41-0 in favor of the principle of one-candidate-one-party-one-office.
The Senate took up the bill on Wednesday, and with the man-of-the-moment in the chamber, Bonini went down again, but not without a fight.
"It is about a very specific state office. I am very flattered," Bonini said, although frankly he did not sound flattered at all. He sounded aggrieved.
His fellow Republicans rallied 'round. They attacked the bill on the grounds it was inconsistent, applying only to state and local candidates, not federal candidates, so it would still allow the situation whereby Joe Biden appeared twice on the Democratic ticket in 2008 for vice president and for re-election to the U.S. Senate.
Dave Lawson, a Republican senator, wondered if there would be anything to keep John Carney from running for a potential fourth term as a Democratic congressman and for governor in 2016?
Anything beyond common sense, that is. Also money. The governor's race in particular does not come cheap, at least not if the candidate wants to win.
The Democrats defended the bill as written, because they argued the state legislature did not have authority over federal offices.
Actually, it is not necessarily so. This, from Michael Dimino, a professor of election law at Widener University's Harrisburg campus.
"In general, the law about the conduct of elections is a state question, even for federal offices. It's not a big deal for a state to have a rule that you appear on the ballot for one office, and that's it. Either way, it would be constitutional," he said in an interview Thursday, the day after the Senate debate.
Dimino pointed to what is happening right now in Kentucky as an example of a state that has a law on the books against double candidacies. Republican legislators there are pushing to change it on behalf of Rand Paul, so he could run for his U.S. Senate seat and president in 2016.
To be sure, unrestricted candidacies could run amok. Karen Peterson, a Democratic senator, defended the Bonini bill because she really did not think elections should be multiple choice, where she could run, say, for state senator and state representative and county councilwoman and then pick one, leaving vacancies if she won them all.
"So there would be two special elections because I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grew up?" Peterson said.
The Senate passed the bill largely along party lines by 11-8, with one senator not voting and one absent, and sent it to the governor for his consideration.
Bonini was unsure afterwards what he would do, although he expects to decide by the end of April. If he opts for treasurer, he would already have company. Not only is Flowers running for re-election, but Sean Barney has also filed as a Democrat and Ken Simpler Jr. as a Republican.
If there is any consolation for Bonini, it might be that Flowers fared worse among the legislators than he did. Flowers did not have a vote in the place. Bonini at least had eight.