Posted: June 16, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

"Legislative Notebook" is a collection of noteworthy political items about the people and events around Legislative Hall in Dover. This edition takes a look at a twist in redistricting and at the lieutenant governor's contribution to the truer-words-have-ne'er-been-said department.

Redistricting taketh, but every now and then, redistricting giveth. This is one of those times.

The "Frances West Gap" is close to kaput.

The redistricting map, proposed for the state House of Representatives by the Democratic majority, plans to do away with one of the most notorious gerrymanders ever in Delaware politics.

"I took it out. It never should have been done in the first place," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the House majority leader who is the Democrats' mapmaker-in-chief.

The Frances West Gap is an odd little crook in the boundary of the 7th Representative District in Brandywine Hundred. It is named for Frances West, a Republican whose political and civic involvement goes back to the 1960s.

West in her heyday was a Cabinet secretary, running the Department of Community Affairs for Pete du Pont and Mike Castle, a pair of Republican governors. The department is long defunct. (As are Republican governors, apparently.)

West is known for going full-speed-ahead, and it wore thin with Wayne Smith, her state representative who was the Republican majority leader when the districts were last reconfigured, as they are every 10 years to even out their population.

Smith cut her out of his district. It was premeditated Republican-on-Republican trickery. Smith never hid it. More remorse has been shown by cats after swallowing a canary.

"All our neighbors were mad when Wayne Smith did this 10 years ago. Now we're all going to be together again," West said.

The Frances West Gap returned to attention momentarily in 2007. There was a special election to replace Smith, after he abruptly jettisoned his legislative seat to run a hospital association and lobby for it. If West had still been in the district, she could have been a candidate.

As it was, Bryon Short won for the Democrats and has been the state representative there since. Still, he should have no worries about a future challenge from West because of the un-gerrymandering of the Frances West Gap.

"I can do more damage playing the elder stateswoman," West said.

# # #

Out of the mouths of lieutenant governors, there can come truth.

It is like the mouths of babes, probably because people only half-listen to tots or to lieutenant governors, until it is too late and they have said what they said.

Has anybody looked at Matt Denn's official lieutenant governor blog lately? See?

Denn, a first-term Democrat, unburdened himself in a recent post with tell-'em-the-truth-'em observations about kissing babies and cutting ribbons. Before someone thinks to hit the delete key, here they are.

Denn is against kissing babies. "Here is my advice to aspiring politicians regarding kissing babies. Don't. Don't kiss them, don't touch them. If you feel that you have to do something because you saw Jimmy Stewart do it, coo at them," he wrote. "Otherwise, keep your mitts off."

Denn is the father of six-year-old twin boys. He does not say, but perhaps his advice is meant equally as much for voters who go gooey at the sight of politicians' kids.

On to cutting ribbons. Denn is cool with that but not with the photo ops they bring. He wrote:

"I just think that photos of a bunch of politicians mugging with circus-clown sized scissors are kind of strange. But many of my contemporaries love the ribbon cutting shot, so the scene just before the photo is taken is vaguely reminiscent of the milk-and-sugar table at Starbucks -- a bunch of people wearing suits smiling politely while they gently but firmly elbow each other for position."

Denn is not done. He promised, "At a later date -- eating food at the state fair, having my picture taken with high school students over six feet tall, and marching in parades."