Posted: April 6, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is a legendary hiccup in the boundary line of a state representative district in Brandywine Hundred. It is known as the "Frances West Gap."

This little notch is named for Frances West, an outspoken Republican and former Cabinet secretary whose home sits inside this curious irregularity in the border. It has existed since the Delaware General Assembly last redistricted itself, redrawing the legislative map to readjust for population changes in time for the 2002 election.

It was put there deliberately, delightedly and devilishly by Wayne Smith, a Republican who was the House majority leader at the time. West was his constituent, and he was tired of dealing with her, so he drew the gap to carve her out of his district.

This is the way of redistricting, which has come around again, a once-a-decade ritual that follows the federal census-taking. The lines are being re-jiggered for the 2012 election.

Redistricting has a lot of lofty principles attached to it, most notably one-person-one-vote, but nobody should be fooled.

Redistricting ranks among the most ruthless acts known to political kind. It is their equivalent of a reality show, except that people are not voted out but drawn out.

To the majority goes the pen. (In this high-tech age, it really means the majority gets the software.) For the 2011 version, the Democrats control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, not to mention there is a Democratic governor to sign their handiwork into law. 

The capricious beauty is it does not always go as planned.

When the Republicans ran the House 10 years ago, they fashioned a Sussex County coastal district they expected to win. It was so enticing, however, it generated a Republican primary that caused hard feelings, and out popped Pete Schwartzkopf with a win for the Democrats.

"I wasn't here 10 years ago when it was done, but I'm here because of the way it was done," quipped Schwartzkopf, now the majority leader charged with overseeing the House's redistricting.

Already the gamesmanship has begun. Redistricting is such a terrible swift sword, its fateful lightning has been loosed on all sorts of legislative business.

The House came with a bill against double-dipping. Then the Senate, where Tony deLuca doubles his power as the Democratic president pro tem and a Labor Department administrator, answered with a bill to make redistricting open to the public. Then Schwartzkopf sent out a press release outlining a method for public input for the House's redistricting, no stinking bill needed. So there.

All this talk of openness surely must mean the House Democratic majority is communicating with the House Republican minority over redistricting.

"We all speak English. Communication is great," cracked Greg Lavelle, the minority leader.

Actually, Lavelle had to read Schwartzkopf's press release to find out what was up.

Not that the minority has been totally excluded from the planning. There has been enough bipartisanship in the early going that a House resolution, setting out the parameters for redistricting, listed all 41 representatives, 26 Democrats and 15 Republicans, as sponsors.

The one certainty is the population has bulged to the south and the districts have to follow. It means not all the legislators above the canal can count on having a district to call their own. There is bound to be political bloodletting with districts collapsed upstate and districts created downstate.

"The question is, how much are we going to do? We'll close down the least amount of districts," Schwartzkopf said.

Still, with the Democrats in charge, five Republican representatives in a cascade of neighboring districts under the state's northern arc -- Lavelle, Debbie Hudson, Nick Manolakos, Mike Ramone and Joe Miro -- have reason to worry.

"Some people will get collapsed together. That's life. If things aren't being done correctly, we'll consider going to court," Lavelle said.

By law, redistricting has to be finished by the end of the legislative session on June 30. It should not come as a surprise there are no penalties for missing the deadline.

Like the legislators were going to pass a law that could get themselves marched off to jail?