Posted: July 9, 2013
By Celia Cohen
The last week of the legislature was an obstacle course for people with designs on the next state treasurer's race.
That would be Chip Flowers, the Democratic treasurer in his first term, and Colin Bonini, the Republican state senator with thoughts of running in 2014 after narrowly losing to Flowers by 6,000 votes in 2010.
Both of them navigated through it, but only by the forbearance of the state Senate, which put off action on legislation affecting them, although it would be wrong to think they are in the clear.
The legislation could be back when the Delaware General Assembly is. It returns in January for the second session of its two-year term, when it can pick up any business it left on hold.
The election for treasurer is not exactly where the maneuvering for the next campaign season would be expected to start, not with races for higher offices also on the ballot, but it is, simply because the Republicans have zilch against the all-incumbent top of the Democratic ticket of Chris Coons for senator, John Carney for congressman and Beau Biden for attorney general.
It might seem prudent for a first-term treasurer -- arguably one who might not have been elected at all, if Christine O'Donnell and her tea party campaign for the Senate had not undone the 2010 Republican ticket -- to play it safe, but that is not Flowers' way.
Instead, Flowers has engaged in a prolonged and noisy power struggle with Jack Markell, the governor who is a fellow Democrat, and the Cash Management Policy Board, a panel that oversees the state's $2 billion investment portfolio, until the legislature was sucked into it, too.
Flowers asserts the constitutional authority over the state's money belongs to him and not the board, which is a mix of state officials including the treasurer and professional financial experts. Historically the board has been in charge, and legislation backing the board surfaced as Senate Bill 151 not long before the session ended on June 30.
In case Flowers did not get the message, all he had to do was check out who the bill's sponsors were. It had two. One was Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem of the Senate. The other was Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.
The bill was not considered, because the idea behind it was it could be brought up in January, if the differences were not worked out before then.
"I put my name on it because there had to be a frank discussion with the state treasurer," Schwartzkopf said.
Barely a week past the end of the legislative session, however, the feud flared again, this time over whether Flowers' disregard of the board's investment guidelines cost the state $18 million in May and possibly more in June. Flowers says the variance in May is more like $454,000, and overall the investments are up since he took office.
"The treasury is fine. It's making money. There's no need for this legislation," Flowers said.
Not according to Tom Cook, the governor's finance secretary who also sits on the cash management board.
"The board was designed to take the politics out and have some private sector oversight. It's about the preservation of principal. The money shouldn't be about chasing yields. This is really your operating cash. To put any principal at risk concerns me as the chief financial officer," Cook said.
Meanwhile, if Flowers was encountering obstacles by not playing it safe, Bonini was running into them for trying to play it a little too safe.
Bonini, a senator since 1994, is up for re-election in 2014. He is making noises about running simultaneously for the state Senate and for treasurer, as if he is convinced Delaware cannot get along without him.
There is nothing in state law to prevent someone from running for two offices, and a couple of minor-party candidates actually did in 2012. Nobody, however, can hold two offices and would have to choose one or the other, if successful in both races.
Bonini has not committed to running for either office yet, but he is being pushed to make up his mind sooner rather than later.
One reason is there is another Republican looking at the treasurer's race. He is Ken Simpler, whose family is involved in commercial real estate in Rehoboth Beach, where he grew up. Currently living on a farm in Newark, he worked in finance after studying political economics at Princeton and earning advanced degrees at the University of Chicago.
Another reason is legislation, House Bill 159, that would require one candidate to run for one office with one party. Only federal office would be excluded, if political lightning were to strike again the way it did for Joe Biden, who was on the Democratic ballot for senator and vice president in 2008.
The bill was approved by the House on the next to the last day of the session, although the Senate did not take it up. Just to send Bonini a message, every single representative whether Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, upstater or downstater voted for it 41-0.
"The Colin Bonini bill? I was thrilled with my Republican support. I'm also very flattered that the Democrats are scared enough that they have to pass a bill for me," Bonini said sarcastically.
Danny Short, the House's Republican minority leader, was all innocence.
"It made good sense on the merits. Colin Bonini probably would prefer that bill not be passed. It wasn't anything about Colin Bonini. It wasn't anything about Joe Biden. It really was a non-political discussion about what's the best thing for Delaware," Short said.
It left Bonini wondering. "How many people get bills specifically to try to block them?" he asked.
At least two. One for Flowers. One for Bonini.