Posted: July 7, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There was a buzz about a phantom retirement as the Delaware General Assembly went into its last day of session on June 30, speculation that a mystery Republican would announce plans to leave the state House of Representatives.

It did not happen then, but a week later, it has -- putting more strain on the thin majority the Republicans are trying to hold.

Rep. Pam Maier, whose congenial and down-to-earth style kept her grounded in her district and not caught up in the political hurly-burly of Dover, is giving up the Pike Creek Valley seat she has held since 1994.

Maier is moving on as her husband Dave takes early retirement from the DuPont Co. and they plan to relocate to Colorado, where he has a new job with the municipal utility for Colorado Springs and where both of their sons are going to college.

Maier said she wanted to announce her departure as the legislature closed down for the year, but she had to wait because not everything was in place for her husband's job switch to be discussed publicly. It finally happened Monday.

"It's where we want to be," Maier said.

For the Republicans, the vacancy for Maier's seat is the second unexpected opening they have to defend in an election year when they already are scrambling to maintain a two-seat majority in the House, which has 22 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

Rep. Ben Ewing, a Bridgeville Republican, announced last month he would not run again after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Both Maier and Ewing were regarded as shoo-ins for re-election. Although the Republicans are considered to have the edge in what have been reliably Republican districts, the voter registration has drifted nominally Democratic in both, giving the Democrats a chance where they never expected to have any.

There are almost 800 more Democrats than Republicans in Maier's district outside Newark and 500 more Democrats in Ewing's district in western Sussex County.

The Republicans need to keep both seats and are optimistic they will. "The good news is, Pam's district is one that we think we can win. We're going to have to work at both races, but I think we can hold both these seats," said Rep. Dick Cathcart, the Republican majority leader.

The Democrats do not intend to let opportunity pass them by, however. "We'll be competitive. They'll know we're in each race," said Rep. Bob Gilligan, the Democratic minority leader.

Both parties have candidates in place for Ewing's seat -- Dave Wilson, the Sussex County register of wills, for the Republicans and Aaron Chaffinch, a former colonel of the state police, for the Democrats, although Sussex County Council President Finley Jones has not ruled out running for the Democratic nomination, too, and creating a troublesome primary.

There are no candidates yet for Maier's seat. The filing deadline is Friday, July 25, although the parties can plug in names until Sept. 2 if no one has come forward.

Maier drew praise from Republican and Democratic leadership for her non-controversial approach to politics, based in common sense and the common good. She leaves as the chair of the House Health & Human Development Committee.

"We want to thank Pam for her wonderful service to the party and to the state of Delaware. We'll be working hard to find a good candidate," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

"Pam Maier has been an honest, loyal and dedicated representative," said Jim Paoli, the New Castle County Democratic chair. "I'm confident we'll field a strong candidate who will be successful in filling Rep. Maier's open seat and bring Democrats one step closer to taking the majority."

With the entire House membership up for new two-year terms, it looks as though 11 of the 41 districts could be battlegrounds.

Even before the districts held by Maier and Ewing opened, the Democrats recruited serious challengers for six Republican seats belonging to Speaker Terry Spence and Rep. Vince Lofink in New Castle County, to Rep. Donna Stone, Rep. Pam Thornburg and Rep. Nancy Wagner in Kent County, and to Rep. Greg Hastings in Sussex County.

The Republicans targeted a pair of first-term Democrats -- Rep. Bryon Short in Brandywine Hundred and Rep. Bob Walls in Kent County -- and they are searching for a candidate for the seat vacated by Rep. Bethany Hall-Long, a Middletown Democrat running for the state Senate.

The breaks keep going against the Republicans as they fight to stay out of the minority, where they have not been since they won control in 1984. One Democrat predicted his party would have an easier time finding someone to run for Maier's seat because of Republican nervousness over losing the majority.

As this gleeful Democrat put it, "Who wants to run on their side? It's like offering someone a ticket to the Titanic -- after it hit the iceberg."