Posted: May 21, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

An insurgent does not usually come out of St. Andrew's and Princeton, get an MBA and a law degree, make a living in finance and global investment and dress in khakis and a blue blazer.

Nor would an insurgent typically be found running for state treasurer, not exactly the Braveheart of political offices.

Still, the way Delaware politics is going, Ken Simpler qualifies.

The main reason is Simpler comes out of the Delaware Republicans, a nostalgic remnant formerly known as a political party. It has faded to the palest of Republican red in a state that has turned such a deep shade of Democratic blue, the ocean is jealous and the sky is ashamed.

Yet there was Simpler, defying convention and declaring his candidacy Tuesday evening at the bandstand in Rehoboth Beach, where he grew up, although nowadays he and his wife live with their two daughters and son on a farm in Newark.

Simpler is the only Republican who has stepped up to become a first-time candidate for statewide office, an insurgency within an insurgency. The Republicans have left Chris Coons, the Democratic senator, unopposed and John Carney, the Democratic congressman, unopposed and even Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant govern running for attorney general, unopposed.

It was with obvious relief that the Republicans welcomed Simpler's candidacy. His announcement brought out about 100 of them, including Tom Wagner, the auditor who is the last Republican in statewide office, and the legislative leadership, namely, Gary Simpson, the minority leader in the Senate, and Dan Short, the minority leader in the House of Representatives.

"It would be good to get a Republican not only running, but winning, and get a qualified person for the office," said Gerald Hocker, a Republican state senator who attended the announcement.

Surprising as it seems, the treasurer's race conceivably could be winnable for the Republicans, because the Democrats are squabbling. Chip Flowers has had such a troubled first term, with his feuds with other Democrats and issues with travel and personnel, that he drew a primary challenge from Sean Barney, a former gubernatorial and senatorial aide.

Simpler comes across as someone utterly smitten by public finance, like the way other people can get rapturous over Harry Potter or the art of French cooking.

"I am running to put a solid fiscal foundation under our state," Simpler said.

"Over a career of 20 years in investment, I have observed the fact that organizations that set their fiscal house in order, they succeed and thrive, and the organizations that don't, fail. I believe that will be true of state governments and local governments in the 21st Century."

He summed up, "I've fixed fiscal stuff that is broken."

For a numbers guy, the campaign also has a way with words. The slogan? Let's Make It Simpler.

# # #

In the murder trial of Tom Capano, justice was done. Since then, politics has been.

It is remarkable how many second acts, even third acts, there have been for the protagonists since Capano, the wealthy and well-connected lawyer, was convicted 15 years ago of killing Anne Marie Fahey, the scheduler for Tom Carper when the Democratic senator was the governor.

This is what happens when a trial is so riveting, it makes household names.

The latest is Ferris Wharton, nominated last week for a judgeship on the Superior Court, the very same venue where Capano was tried.

It could be considered Wharton's third incarnation, after his first as a deputy attorney general prosecuting Capano and his second as the only Republican ever to have the guts to run against Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general with the vice-presidential father.

Wharton's nomination was announced shortly after Colm Connolly walked away from what would have been a third act of his own. Connolly was Wharton's fellow prosecutor and then the U.S. attorney but resisted a hard sell from the Republicans to run for attorney general against Denn.

It does not stop there. Bill Lee, the judge, left the bench and ran for governor as a Republican. Charlie Oberly, who was one of Capano's defense attorneys, already was a three-term Democratic attorney general as well as a Senate candidate before the trial, and today he is the U.S. attorney, which all things considered, might be his fourth act.

All told, the trial begat two U.S. attorneys, a candidate for governor, a candidate for attorney general (nearly two), and presumably a judge, currently awaiting confirmation.

"It worked out that way," Oberly said. "It was a well-established group of people. In a case like Capano, from the prosecution's point of view, they're going to bring in their best people, and Capano had the resources to bring in people who had the experience."

Oberly has another connection to Wharton. By Oberly's count, Wharton would be the 16th sitting judge who worked for Oberly when he was the attorney general. Among them are Greg Sleet, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court, and seven already on the Superior Court.

This gives Oberly something even beyond a fourth act. It gives him a legacy.

It should not be forgotten that out of the Capano trial there was no second act from its heart of darkness. Capano himself died in prison in 2011.