Posted: March 2, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The next chair of the Delaware Republicans could stand to have the conviction of Barry Goldwater, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln and the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan.

It still might not be enough. This is a state party on the brink.

It was smashed to smithereens in 2010, a sorry bystander to the resounding Republican successes around the country. When a party is left with the auditor as its only statewide official and relegated dismally to the minority in the General Assembly, it has come close to answering the eternal question, how low can you go?

The gory aftermath has not exactly helped, either. It has been the political equivalent of Bleeding Kansas out there, a conservative/moderate fault line with the dueling partisans for Christine O'Donnell and Mike Castle each blaming the other for losing the Senate race.

One confrontational moment said it all. At a Sussex County Republican meeting last month, some irate questioners demanded to know why Tom Ross, the state chair, had declared that O'Donnell could not get elected dogcatcher, and he shot back, "Why did I say it? Because it was true."

The situation has to be about as inviting to new leadership as a toxic waste dump.

Not only that, but the Republicans have no consensus candidates to run in 2012 for senator, representative, governor or lieutenant governor, let alone insurance commissioner. Someone will have to do the recruiting, while the Democrats have an easy ballot to put together. They have incumbents everywhere.

Did anyone mention Joe Biden will be at the top of the ticket?

The Republicans are scheduled to elect a state chair at a convention in Dover at the end of April. Although Ross has not officially bowed out, he has just soldiered through a venomous year that brought him death threats and hospitalized him with some heart issues, so there is every expectation he will not run for a new two-year term.

As unwelcoming as the circumstances seem, it could be that the party will turn to John Sigler as its next chair, and he could be willing to do it.

If Sigler is not Goldwater-Lincoln-Reagan reincarnated -- and who is? -- he has a set of credentials of his own, most notably as a past president of the National Rifle Association from 2007 to 2009.

Sigler also was a Kent County Republican chair. He is a lawyer, working as the general counsel for Psychotherapeutic Services, which provides community-based mental and behavioral health services in Delaware and other states. He was also a Dover police officer, retiring as a captain.

Sigler is being regarded as a party builder, someone who could be considered conservative enough for the Tea Party insurgents, acceptable to major contributors, whatever their politics, and experienced in the ways of organizations.

"I am trying to find out if that is correct, that I can be a unifying factor," Sigler said Wednesday during a telephone interview. "I am very concerned about the status of the party, but I have a lot of faith in the party. I will confess to the fact that I have been testing the waters."

There are other names being mentioned for chair -- like Mike Protack, a self-recycling candidate who runs for everything, and Don Ayotte, a conservative from Sussex County -- but the regulars appear to be rallying around Sigler.

Tom Wagner, the auditor who is the last Republican in statewide office, had good words for Sigler, a fellow Kent Countian. "John's a great guy. He would make a good candidate and a good leader of the party," Wagner said.

Tom Kovach, recently elected as the New Castle County Council president, was also encouraging. "I have the utmost respect for John. When I heard that suggestion, I was happy. I would love more potential party leaders like that. I look at the success he had at the NRA as a positive. He's done it, he's led a political, ideological-based organization."

Bill Lee, the retired judge who ran for governor and chaired the Sussex County Republicans, wished Sigler well. "The people I've been dealing with are in Sussex, and they don't want anyone except one of their own, and that's not going to happen. John Sigler would seem to me to be an individual people can unite around, but I don't know if they will," Lee said.

Sigler could be the honest broker capable of soothing the party. At the very least, though, it ought to stop the death threats that went to Ross. Why would anybody want to take the chance of sending them to an ex-cop who ran the NRA?