Posted: July 1, 2014
WHEN JUNE TURNS INTO JULY
By Celia Cohen
June 30th is Firefly for political folks.
They cannot seem to stay away from the last legislative session, which commences on the final evening in June and never quits until it turns into the first morning of July.
It is another happening in Dover, not the pulsating delirium of bands whipping up the crowds at the Firefly music festival at The Woodlands but the mundane tedium of legislators and lobbyists whipping up the votes in Legislative Hall.
Never mind. People come in a crush for the conclusion of the Delaware General Assembly.
Look! It is Tom Carper, the Democratic senator who has acknowledged any number of times in public he is a "recovering governor." Somebody ought to have done an intervention, because this looks very much like a relapse. At least he does not stay long.
The mayor has shown up, too. Dennis Williams, who was a Democratic representative for 17 years before he was elected to run Wilmington, put in a return appearance. He has brought along Bobby Cummings, the new police chief, who smiles and greets people as though he does not really know what to make of the place but perhaps a curfew is in order. Yes, but there is none.
The governor and the lieutenant governor are here, too, but they have to be.
Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, has the magic signature to turn the money bills -- the budget, the bond bill for construction projects and the grants-in-aid bill for nonprofits -- into law and keep the state operating for another year.
Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor, presides in the Senate. It could very well be his last time, because he is a candidate for attorney general and still has the field to himself. Ted Kittila, a Republican lawyer, has talked about running but has yet to file, and the deadline is next Tuesday.
Nobody says anything about Denn maybe not coming back. The legislature is in denial. Denn has two years to go in his term, but under the state constitution, there is no way to replace a departed lieutenant governor. The legislature could have teed up a constitutional amendment to do it but could not agree on a method -- gubernatorial appointment or special election? -- and gave up.
So who else is here? Carla Markell, the first lady. Tony DeLuca, who used to be the Democratic president pro tem in the Senate. Karen Weldin Stewart, the Democratic insurance commissioner, floating through the hallways like something out of Faulkner.
All of the candidates for treasurer have made their way to Dover and find themselves hanging out together. Chip Flowers, the first-term Democrat, and Sean Barney, the Democratic challenger, and Ken Simpler, the Republican candidate, exchange bro-hugs.
Simpler is handing out miniature blue footballs as campaign souvenirs -- "political footballs," he calls them -- and Flowers and Barney each wind up with one. Only in Delaware.
Some very human stuff is also going on.
The Senate takes a break from its agenda just after midnight, because now it is July 1, the first anniversary of the day gay marriage became legal in Delaware, and Patti Blevins, the Democratic pro tem, does not want the moment to pass without congratulations for a colleague and her wife.
Karen Peterson, a Democratic senator, and Vikki Bandy were the first same-sex couple to be wed. They have been together for 25 years. Ken Boulden Jr., the New Castle County clerk of the peace who married them, is in the chamber and announces he is presenting their marriage certificate to the Delaware Historical Society.
"It's a first, it's one of kind, and it needs to be preserved," Boulden said.
The session goes later and later. The prime reason is the herculean push for $10 million in relief for the casinos to try to keep what was once a cash cow for the state from turning into a bum steer. The hang-up is the House of Representatives, and it is no mean legislative feat when it is passed with both the speaker and the majority leader opposed to it.
By the time the roll call is taken, it is after three in the morning, and anybody who did not have to be here is long gone. The legislature has legislated itself into exhaustion, and the Senate and the House both quit at about three-thirty.
"We have hit the bottom of the barrel," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker.
Legislators from both parties troop into the governor's office to watch Markell sign the money bills shortly after four in the morning. It is over. The early birds are already chirping outside, and the first hints of dawn are minutes away.
Say not that the sun has set on another General Assembly. That would be so wrong. Here in Dover, the sun rises on the last legislation session.