Posted: March 22, 2016
By Celia Cohen
Not all legislative candidates are created equally. Some cost more than others.
This is odd but true.
It has to do with the myth that Delaware holds free elections. They are not actually "free." It takes money for someone to get on the ballot.
Candidates have to pay a filing fee. The money goes to their political party. If this little arrangement was not written into state law, and it is, it would be called a kickback.
This is one of the things that makes politics so civilizing. Campaign contributions are like legalized bribes. Filing fees are like legalized kickbacks. Is this a great country, or what?
The filing fees are not only collected by the political parties, they are set by them. Typically the filing fees amount to 1 percent of the salary for the term of office, the maximum allowed by state law.
For example, the state budget calls for paying the next governor $171,000 a year, so both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party did the calculations based on 1 percent of the total salary for the four-year term to figure up a filing fee of $6,840.
It would make sense there would be uniformity for the legislative filing fees, since the salary for all legislators, whether they are state senators or state representatives, is $44,541 for the year, but guess again. Their filing fees are set by the party organizations in the counties, and this would not be Delaware if New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County did not go their own way, so they did.
It is cheaper to run in Kent County. New Castle County and Sussex County are just about the same -- New Castle County rounded down, and Sussex County rounded up -- but Kent County made it about $20 less to file for a four-year term in the state Senate and about $10 less to file for a two-year term in the state House of Representatives.
This was news to Hank McCann, who chairs the Kent County Republican Party. "I'm going to go back and get it!" he quipped.
A ten-dollar saving is a ten-dollar saving. Jeff Spiegelman is the Republican state representative for the only state House district that straddles New Castle County and Kent County, and he filed for re-election in Kent County.
Actually, Spiegelman did not file in Kent County to save the money, even if he did get a kick out of pocketing the Kent County discount. He filed there because he had to -- "because I live in Kent," Spiegelman said.
John Mancus, the Kent County Democratic chair, swears there was no cross-party collusion to undercut the other counties -- "there was no coordination between myself and the Grand Old Party" -- and it looks like he has the evidence to prove it, since the two parties set different filing fees a dollar apart for the state Senate.
What Kent County did is actually simple to explain. It was not that Kent County pulled numbers out of the air. It was not that Kent County could not accurately add, subtract, multiply and divide.
The Democrats and the Republicans in Kent County independently decided to use the same legislative filing fees they set for the 2014 election, while the legislative paycheck was slightly less.
"One way or another, it didn't make a difference," Mancus said.
This should put to rest any suspicion that Kent County does not think its legislators are worth as much. Kent County is just behind the times.
# # #
The Superior Court was scheduled to hold an investiture, but while it was adding Abby LeGrow to the bench, it also strayed into a little comedy improv.
It was wit-against-wit from Jan Jurden, the Superior Court's president judge, and Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, as they jousted, using the peculiar weapons of their branch of government.
All of it was caught on tape provided by the state court system.
Jurden had home-court advantage, as she presided on Friday in the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington from the bench with Henley Graves and Bill Witham, the ranking judges from Sussex County and Kent County, alongside her as seconds. Still, the governor is the governor.
The governor started it.
The investiture had begun normally enough. Jurden welcomed LeGrow to the Superior Court from her last post as a master, or lesser judicial officer, for the Court of Chancery and noted they were fellow graduates of Dickinson law school.
Jurden invited LeGrow's two young children to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and gently coaxed them into it by telling them to start once she counted to three. Soon afterwards, she recognized Markell to make some remarks.
"I'm sort of waiting for the same count of three," Markell quipped.
"Don't make me do that," Jurden shot back.
Markell had wonderful things to say about LeGrow, noting, "She takes on her new responsibilities with very impressive legal credentials. She's obviously got a keen intellect, and her commitment to the law has been evident for a long time. She graduated as valedictorian of her class and editor of the Law Review at the Dickinson School of Law."
Markell turned toward Jurden. "Were you also the valedictorian of your class at the Dickinson School of Law?" he asked puckishly.
"Thanks for that, Governor," Jurden zapped back.
"I'm going to have to talk to my staffer who wrote that question," Markell said merrily.
"Judge Graves wants to know if you can spell 'contempt,'" Jurden said.
"It's a good thing I don't have to reappoint you," Markell said.
Call it a draw.