Posted: Aug. 1, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Ezion-Mount Carmel United Methodist Church on Wilmington's East Side looked in all innocence like a logical place for a bill-signing ceremony.

H. Ward Greer, the senior pastor, worked for passage of this particular bill, intended to restrict the insurance industry's use of poor consumer credit scores to charge higher insurance rates, and the city is home to state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the Democrat who was the chief sponsor.

Furthermore, the people living in the surrounding working-class neighborhoods, largely African-American, are expected to be prime beneficiaries of the new law, which will require insurance companies to rely less on someone's bill-paying history and more on driving records or the number of previously-filed claims when setting premiums for automobile and homeowner policies.

It made sense for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the two-term Democrat, to arrange to sign the bill into law Wednesday morning at the church, but it made politics, too.

The credit-scoring law is really the baby of Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, a Democrat with a Robin Hood complex of standing up for the little guy against the big bad insurance lobby. He made this legislation a priority within days of taking office in 2005.

Denn is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, as is Wilmington Council President Theodore Blunt. This bill-signing ceremony gave Denn a free pass into Blunt's territory.

There was Denn, right in the city, basking in praise and having his picture taken with the governor and the pastor, Sen. Henry and House Minority Whip Helene M. Keeley, another Wilmington Democrat who was instrumental in steering the legislation through the lower chamber.

This was not just about credit scoring for insurance policyholders. This was also about scoring credit with city voters.

The governor was something of an unwitting co-conspirator. Although Minner has taken sides in the Democratic primary for governor, endorsing Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. over Treasurer Jack A. Markell, she has stayed on the sidelines in the primary for lieutenant governor.

Minner plans on staying there unless Carney has other ideas.

"Normally we allow the candidates for governor to look at the different candidates and decide who they want, and if John does that, I will support him on that," Minner said.

If Carney has his way, he would take the ticket that U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper tried to broker for the Democrats a couple of months ago with Carney for governor and Markell for lieutenant governor. Otherwise, Carney is not ready to say whether he will let a primary take it course or perhaps offer his own choice for lieutenant governor.

"It's really too early. I've got a primary of my own. There may be others who are interested. The reality appears to be a party primary is going to decide it," Carney said.

Markell has indicated his good will for both Denn and Blunt with no intention of getting involved in the primary.

It is interesting to note the evolution in Minner's perspective on the preferred method for settling on a candidate for lieutenant governor. Her current position is in keeping with her first campaign for governor in 2000, when the Democratic Party gave her the luxury of putting Carney on the ticket, but it was not always so.

When Minner was a state senator wanting to run for lieutenant governor in 1992, she let it be known she would not get out of the way for anybody -- not even if Carper, then a congressman seeking the governorship, had someone else in mind. Carper came to see that Minner would make a fine addition to the ticket.

Minner is leaving public life when her term ends. If she wants to display a little political amnesia about her own climb to lieutenant governor, well, pre-retirement has its privilege.