Posted: Aug. 8, 2006


The long arm of Mike Castle

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle has been out of Dover for 14 years, but the two-term Republican ex-governor still knows how to kill a bill.

Castle is known in Washington for working with both sides of the aisle, but here at home, he showed he could play partisan politics with the best.

Before Castle intervened, it looked in June as though the Democrats and Republicans had found common ground on legislation that would prohibit "fusion" candidates -- people running on more than one ticket.

There was nothing in state law to prevent it. The bill proposed that candidates be allowed to file only with the party where they were registered. It would mean no more dual candidates like Karen M. Hartley-Nagle, currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives on the tickets of the Democratic Party and the Independent Party of Delaware.

From the perspective of the major parties, dual candidates were gaming the system. Hartley-Nagle could lose the Democratic primary to Dennis Spivack, the endorsed candidate, as widely expected, but still be around for the general election as a minor-party candidate.

Minor parties did not want the bill, arguing no one should dictate who goes on their ballots, but Legislative Hall is the shared fiefdom of the Democrats and the Republicans, who did not particularly care what the minor parties wanted.

The bill looked like a lock. It had the approval of state Democratic Chair John D. Daniello and Republican Chair Terry A. Strine, and it had the bipartisan sponsorship pf Republican Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith in the state House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold sway, and Democratic Sen. Patricia M. Blevins in the state Senate, where the Democrats do.

Then the bill stalled. The parties could not agree on its effective date. The Democrats wanted it to be in place for the 2006 election, so it could thwart Harley-Nagle's "fusion" filing, but the Republicans wanted to hold off until 2008. The bill never came up for a vote before the General Assembly quit for the year in the early hours of July 1.

Castle had done it in.

Castle typically does not like laws that narrow the opportunity for candidates -- "I believe in open processes" -- but he said he probably would not have objected if the new requirement was not implemented until the next election.

"I didn't mind, but changing rules in the middle of the game . . . " he said.

Once Castle heard about the bill, he put out the word among the Republicans that he was against it. Because he is the last, best thing they have in statewide office, they did what they had to do. The legislation died.

Castle's motivation, however, was not entirely out of a civics book.

He is running for his eighth term this year. Although he typically swats away his Democratic opponents, he was not above making a little mischief for the other side by undermining the bill and forcing Spivack to deal with in a primary.

"Anything I can do to put little roadblocks in the way," Castle said cheerfully.

Strine, the Republican state chair, said it was likely the bill would be reintroduced with bipartisan backing in the 2007 legislative session to apply to the 2008 election when -- who knows? -- the Republicans could be the ones faced with a dual filing.

Daniello is taking a different approach. He wants a Democratic House so he does not need Republican votes to pass the bill. "I'm not even thinking about it until after the election. I'm busy trying to elect Democrats to that House, and then I'll see who I need to deal with," he said.

"Fusion" candidacies? Daniello is ready to ditch "fusion" sponsorship, too.

Judge Jordan on hold

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings last week for some federal court nominees, but Kent A. Jordan was not one of them, leaving him dangling while the Congress takes a summer recess until September.

Jordan is the U.S. District Court judge nominated in late June by President George W. Bush to replace Third Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth, who went on senior status, taking semi-retirement with a reduced caseload.

The appointment came with the cooperation of the Delaware congressional delegation -- not only Castle, a fellow Republican, but also Democratic Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper.

The Judiciary Committee, where Biden is a senior member, must consider Jordan's nomination before it can go to the full Senate for confirmation. The committee has not acted because it is waiting to receive Jordan's rating from the American Bar Association, according to Margaret Aitken, the press secretary for Biden.

Lawyers get to critique judges so rarely, they might as well take their time with it.

A power hour for Gilligan

State Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, the Democratic minority leader, packed a lot into an hour on Friday.

His first grandchild, a boy, was born at 10:50 in the morning. About an hour later at 11:45 a.m., he got a telephone call telling him that William H. Dunn, his Democratic primary opponent, had dropped out.

It left Gilligan unopposed for re-election in a suburban Newark-Newport district, although the Republicans have until Sept. 1 to plug the vacancy on their ballot, if they can find someone. Gilligan, first elected in 1972, was sitting pretty to extend his record as the longest-serving House member in state history.

"It was a good hour," Gilligan said. "They were both good things, but the grandson was better."

The baby was called Cole Patrick Garrison. Not a bad name for a governor, is it?