Posted: June 8, 2011
By Celia Cohen
There is the door. There is the double dipping. Now there is redistricting, too.
Tony DeLuca, the put-up-your-dukes politician finishing up his second year as the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem, has made himself a household name in Delaware by turning his corner of government into a giant goodie bag.
He added a doorway for nearly $50,000 to his Legislative Hall office in Dover, the better to give himself more space and more privacy. The idea was, if he built it, people would not come.
He also grafted a state job onto his lawmaking post for dual public paychecks at around $130,000 a year. That would be roughly two and a half entranceways in door dollars.
It all reminded the public that politicians-will-be-politicians and made for an uncomfortable vote for DeLuca to stay on as pro tem for the 2011-2012 legislative session. He was challenged by Michael Katz, a fellow Democrat who is a doctor, running as the physician-heal-thy-caucus candidate. In the 21-member chamber, DeLuca survived by getting 11 votes, the barest number possible.
This was not just the start of any legislative session, however. It was the start of the session when the General Assembly had to redistrict itself, as it does every 10 years to even out the population.
The new districts that have been proposed seem to be something like political tarot cards. They foretell that senators who did not vote for DeLuca for pro tem appear to have less of a chance of returning to the Senate to deny him their votes in the future.
As much as it is DeLuca's reputation to take names and keep score, he insists the roll call for pro tem played no part in the way the districts were drawn.
"If it did, they'd look a lot worse," DeLuca cracked.
Suffice it to say the evidence is in the eye of the beholder. The pro tem vote and the map look suspiciously connected to Dave Sokola, a Democratic senator who was so committed to installing a different pro tem that he got himself to Dover for the vote just five days removed from hip surgery.
"Did anybody say that? No. Is anybody going to say that? No. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, a lot of people are going to think it's a duck. I don't know what to say," Sokola said.
Sokola was one of three Democratic senators to back Katz for pro tem, along with George Bunting and Karen Peterson.
Under the new map, Sokola does not even have a district to call his own. He would be tossed in with Liane Sorenson, the Republican minority whip, in a new Hockessin-Pike Creek Valley district with a constituency that is more hers than his.
Katz and Bunting are slotted for the only two districts with more Republican than Democratic voters.
Even worse for Katz, his sweeping district under the northern arc of the state would include four Republican representatives being squeezed into two districts under the plan proposed by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. It is practically a foregone conclusion one of them will run against Katz, probably Greg Lavelle, the House minority leader.
Bunting, whose current Sussex County district runs inland from the coast, is looking at a new district that cuts out Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Henlopen Acres, areas he would prefer to keep because they contain a lot of clients from his insurance agency.
Not to mention Bunting was a co-sponsor of the civil union bill, and his new district would deprive him of the gay-friendly vote in Rehoboth Beach and leave him in what is otherwise a typical conservative stronghold in Sussex County.
"They kind of threw him to the Tea Party," Peterson said.
Bunting, for one, is not taking offense. "Tony's a point-blank guy. My Marine Corps background, I don't have any problem with that," he said. "In life I've always taken the hand that was dealt. The creation of the district is good for the people. It's not about me."
No legislator likes a new district, but Peterson can live with hers -- a stretch from her home turf in Stanton to the outskirts of Newark. It could be worse, and it nearly was. In an early draft she saw, her house was at the extreme end, and she had to wrangle a change with a little more room to it.
"The original proposal, I would have barely been in my district," Peterson said.
The Senate Republicans are part of the redistricting intrigue, too. On the day of the pro tem vote, their participation was crucial if DeLuca was to be defeated. Both Cathy Cloutier and Dori Connor had family emergencies, but one of them made it back and the other did not.
One of them is in line for a nice new district, and the other is not. Cloutier is the one getting a lower Democratic registration than what she has now. Take a wild guess whether it was Cloutier who was nowhere around for the pro tem vote.
"No, she wasn't, and Dori Connor was," said Sorenson, the minority whip.
Cloutier is looking at a compact district, shaped something like a generous slice of pie, in Brandywine Hundred, although it does have a little bulge that takes in the neighborhood where her Democratic opponent from 2010 lives. Not that this is all bad. Better the opponent she knows than the one she does not know.
By contrast, the district drawn for Connor is a vision of deformity, long and splayed like something hit by lightning. It plunges along the Delaware River from New Castle to Delaware City, then shoots up through Glasgow all the way to Newark.
Connor's new district looks V-shaped, quite the reminder of the strange forces hexing senators on the wrong end of the pro tem vote. V is for voodoo redistricting.