Posted: April 2, 2012
HISTORY IS BORN
By Celia Cohen
There would not seem to be much in the way of "firsts" left for women in Delaware politics.
First woman elected to the legislature? Check. She was Florence Hanby, a Republican state representative who went to Dover in 1924, four years after women got the vote. First woman elected statewide? Check, Vera Davis as the Republican state treasurer in 1956.
First woman as governor? Check, She-who-must-not-be-named.
Still, the state has not yet seen the last of the firsts -- not as long as it shares the dubious distinction as one of the four states never to send a woman to the Congress -- but there is also another first to come, one that people probably would never guess.
Melanie George Smith, a Democratic state representative from Bear, is pregnant, and nobody can remember another legislator giving birth as a member of the General Assembly.
"I don't think it's ever happened," said Roger Martin, a former Democratic state senator himself who is the unofficial historian of Legislative Hall.
"In my memory I go back to 1959, so I think it's pretty safe to say. It's exciting," said Nancy Cook, who was a legislative aide before she was a Democratic state senator from 1974 until 2010.
Plenty of legislators have had babies while in office, of course, but they were men, and like the fabled hen discussing breakfast with the pig, the men were committed but not involved. Lincoln Willis, a Republican state representative from Clayton, became a father about three months ago.
Plenty of women in the legislature have had babies, too, but customarily motherhood comes before the election. Cook herself is an example. She gave birth to a Cabinet officer. Tom Cook is the finance secretary for Jack Markell, the Democratic governor.
George Smith, a lawyer who has spent 10 years in the House of Representatives, gets how special this is. "So many men in the legislature have. The difference is, they have wives," she quipped.
George Smith comes from a family in which politics is a birthright and its birthright is politics.
She was born in 1972 on the Election Day that put her father on the Wilmington City Council. Lonnie George, now the president of Delaware Tech, then went on to be a Democratic state representative himself for more than 20 years, including a term as speaker, and he and his wife Linda had three more daughters while he was in the House.
George Smith and her husband Frank are expecting on Sept. 2. The timing is barely better than her own arrival as a baby. Primary Day 2012 is Sept. 11.
"That was the first thing that went through my mind," George Smith said.
Not that George Smith should have much to worry about. In her five prior campaigns in an exceedingly Democratic district, she never had a Republican run against her and only one Democrat in a primary. It was her first race, and she smoked him with 92 percent of the vote.
She should only deliver a baby the way she delivers an election.
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For the record, here is a chart of the women who were -- or are -- legislators, all of whom except for George Smith did not have babies while there.
Source: Secretary of State's Office; 146th General Assembly