Posted: June 8, 2012
LEGISLATORS VOTE THEMSELVES OFF THE AISLE
By Celia Cohen
In the reality show that is politics, the Democrats and the Republicans go into elections for the Delaware General Assembly trying to vote the other party off the opposite side of the aisle.
In this election season, though, an unusually high number of legislators are choosing to vote themselves off the aisle, a twist for a reality show to love.
The tally now stands at eight legislators not running to keep their seats, but is eight enough? There is still a little more than a month left until the candidates' filing deadline at noon on Tuesday, July 10, for others to join them.
Besides, who knows what is up with Bob Marshall, the Democratic senator who is a human guessing game. Maybe he runs for mayor of Wilmington. Maybe he runs for re-election. All he is saying is he could do either.
As recently as Thursday, another legislator voted herself out.
It was Terry Schooley, the hugely valued Democratic representative, who told her colleagues she was leaving her Newark district after four terms. The House of Representatives was crushed, just crushed, by her decision. She is so well-regarded that Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor, came by to pay his respects.
"She is a person that brought out the best in people. I knew when she had bills on the agenda, she had worked with all the stakeholders and everyone was in agreement," said Bob Gilligan, the Democratic speaker.
"The lieutenant governor said in my ear, she is going to be missed."
What a difference in the mood of the House from the retirement announcement two days earlier of another Democratic representative, Brad Bennett, he of the two drunken-driving charges. There are legislators who embrace retirement and legislators who are thrust into it.
Schooley got a send-off like Dorothy leaving Oz. Bennett was like someone walking the plank.
There is not really much of a mystery to the massive exodus.
"They're getting old. We all are," said Bob Byrd, a lobbyist who was one of the Watergate babies, elected as a Democratic representative in 1974, when he just barely made the legal age at 25.
Schooley, for example, turned 65 last Saturday. She retired earlier this year as the director of Kids Count, a project based at the University of Delaware to provide data on the well-being of children. Her husband Kit, a minister, retired last year.
What really persuaded her not to run, she said, was the realization that her public involvement has lasted 40 years -- since she filed a class action lawsuit in Louisville, Ky., to let pregnant teachers keep teaching beyond their fifth month. Ever since then, she has been an advocate for women and children, a commitment that took her to the Christina school board before the legislature.
So age accounts for departures. Liane Sorenson, the Senate's Republican minority whip, and Biff Lee, a Republican representative, will reach the standard retirement age of 65 before the year is over, and out they go.
So does redistricting. It can make a legislator lose his seat like Greg Lavelle, the House's Republican minority leader who is running for the Senate, or draw someone into less hospitable territory like George Bunting, a Democratic senator who is calling it quits after 30 years in politics.
So does the lure of other offices. It has Dennis Porter Williams, a Democratic representative, running for mayor of Wilmington, and Gerald Hocker, the House's Republican minority whip, running for an open Senate seat.
So does public scrutiny. "The media is a lot tougher, with everything looked at in minute detail," said Gary Simpson, the Senate's Republican minority leader who does not plan to go anywhere.
That reason sounds like the one that got Bennett.
TEN YEARS OF ELECTION-YEAR EXITS
*Caulk was elected as a Republican but switched to independent