Posted: June 27, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Dummymander is a wonderful word. It was created in 2005 by a couple of political scientists named Bernard Grofman and Thomas Brunell, but it does not take an advanced academic degree to figure out what it means.

A dummymander is a boneheaded gerrymander. It is what happens when one party is in charge during redistricting, but a decade later, when it comes around again, the other party is.

Dummymander is an excellent example of the reason why people are sometimes known to say that if a certain word did not exist, someone would have to create it.

So this one was. Like blog. Also like its own root word of gerrymander -- a mash-up concocted out of salamander and Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor two centuries ago, to coin a jeering description of a legislative district that looked like a lizard and benefited the governor's party.

Delaware knows about dummymanders.

"They did reapportionment, and I got to be speaker," quipped Bob Gilligan.

This is true. Gilligan was the Democratic minority leader when the state House of Representatives was redistricted for the 2002 election, and then he was the shell-shocked minority leader as the Democrats lost three seats to be down 29-12, but the Republican surge was an illusion, and Gilligan was the speaker by the 2008 election.

Whatever a really smart gerrymander is -- a cannymander? -- the Republicans did not do it.

Now here comes a new 10-year plan to even out the population. The legislature is racing toward a deadline to pass a redistricting bill by Thursday, the last day of its 2011 session, and expects to make it. The House has already written its maps into legislation, designated as House Bill 210, and plans to fold the Senate maps into it on Tuesday.

There have been some variations in the boundary lines since the maps were first drafted, the most notable being the shape-shifting of the district that is home to Dori Connor, a Republican senator.

Connor initially was given a district that looked like a fat V, angling from New Castle down to Delaware City and then shooting up to Newark. Now the district looks more like a misshapen checkmark, part of it drooping below the canal where she has never had constituents before.

The earlier version proved to be too much to defend even for the Senate Democrats, who drew it. This is quite something for a caucus that has been in power so long, it is inclined to regard tyranny-of-the-majority as an inspirational saying.

"We took a look at the district that was weird-shaped," conceded Tony DeLuca, the Senate's Democratic president pro tem.

Both the Senate and the House maps tear at the principle that governs redistricting as far as the General Assembly is concerned. No, not one-person-one-vote as the Supreme Court decreed, but one-legislator-one-district.

It could not be helped. As the population goes, so go the districts.

On the Senate side, the mapmaking throws together Liane Sorenson, the Republican minority whip, and Dave Sokola, a Democratic senator, in a new Hockessin-Pike Creek Valley district that has more of her old district than his.

On the House side, four Republican representatives would be collapsed into two districts. Nick Manolakos and Joe Miro would be squeezed into a Hockessin-Pike Creek Valley district. Debbie Hudson and Greg Lavelle, the Republican minority leader, would share a Greenville-Brandywine Hundred district.

New districts would be opened to the south -- a Senate district in Sussex County, a House district in Sussex County and a House district spanning Kent County and New Castle County.

There are suspicions that a dummymander could be lurking, a threat to flip the Senate from the Democrats to the Republicans after nearly 40 years.

"Let's hope this is a dummymander. I've got my fingers crossed," said Gary Simpson, the Senate's Republican minority leader.

Recent trends could be a clue. While the Democratic membership has been building in the House, it has been slipping in the Senate. The 21-member upper chamber had 16 Democrats after the 2008 election, fell to 15 Democrats after a special election in 2009, and stands at 14 Democrats since the 2010 election.

The Republicans have targets of opportunity in Sussex County, the most conservative territory in the state, and there is talk that Lavelle could leave the new Greenville-Brandywine Hundred representative district to Hudson and challenge Michael Katz, a Democratic senator, instead.

Katz is being drawn into a mammoth district that sprawls under Delaware's northern arc to take in Brandywine Hundred, Greenville, Hockessin and Pike Creek Valley. Not only is it ungainly, but it is designed to have more Republican than Democratic voters -- making it inviting for a takeover.

If Lavelle got himself to the Senate, it is easily conceivable he could work his way back into leadership in a caucus where he is about 15 years younger than the current leaders.

What irony there would be if Lavelle was rubbed out as the House minority leader, only to bob up as a future Senate president pro tem. It would be the revenge of the dummymander.