Posted: Aug. 25, 2009
WHO'S THE BOSS?
By Celia Cohen
Not all of the committee assignments that belonged to Thurman Adams, the Senate's Democratic president pro tem who died in June, have been disbursed yet, but the choicest one is spoken for.
Adams spent 32 years as the chair of the Executive Committee, the clearinghouse for all of the governor's appointments that require Senate confirmation. No judge, no Cabinet secretary, not so much as a member of the Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries advanced without Adams' say-so.
As the Democratic majority leader, Tony DeLuca saw what Adams had going and swiftly maneuvered to become the new president pro tem. The corner office suite that went with the title was nice, but the authority to make committee assignments was even nicer. It meant DeLuca would name the next Executive Committee chair.
"You can pretty much count that I might keep that one myself," DeLuca said.
The Executive Committee is like the governor's veto, only better. The legislature can override a veto. The committee is not answerable to the governor, not even if the governor says please-with-sugar-on-top or threatens I'll-get-you-my-pretty-and-your-little-dog-too.
In DeLuca's case, it is better still. He is not only a senator, but an administrator in the Labor Department. The secretary has to go through the Executive Committee on the way to confirmation.
It all makes for an elaborate episode of "Who's the Boss?"
When the Executive Committee meets next, it will have important business. Gov. Jack Markell has nominated Travis Laster for vice chancellor to replace Steve Lamb, who left the Court of Chancery for private practice.
This is an appointment the state dares not get wrong. Chancery, as the premier forum for business law, is the keystone of Delaware's corporate-and-banking franchise, which provides endless prestige and about a third of the state's revenue.
The Senate is expected to return to Dover for a special session on Tuesday, Sept. 22, although the date has not officially been announced yet.
Laster, a corporate law practitioner at Abrams & Laster, is a familiar figure within the bench and bar but largely a curiosity in Legislative Hall. It means that good things are being said about him in legal circles but no bad things in the lawmaking corridors -- which is typically a route to confirmation.
"I haven't met him yet. I look forward to the Executive hearing. I've heard good things about him," said Patti Blevins, the Democratic majority leader who sits on the Executive Committee.
"He sounds like he's very well-qualified," said Liane Sorenson, the Republican minority whip who also is a member of the Executive Committee.
"I don't know the candidate, but he seems well-credentialed," said Margaret Rose Henry, the Democratic minority whip.
Laster is a Republican nominated by a Democratic governor for confirmation by a Democratic-run Senate, but he has to be. The state constitution requires the judiciary to be as politically balanced as possible, and Laster would keep the five-judge court at three Democrats and two Republicans.
As a Democratic state representative, Melanie George Marshall does not have a vote on Laster, but she is one legislator who does have a take on him, because he used to be a partner at Richards Layton & Finger, the firm where she is a lawyer.
"With Travis, the state just got lucky. I'm not being shy about my support. In the legal community, he's known as a well-respected intellect and a workhorse. It's a combination that's impossible to beat," said Marshall, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
Not even an old political score appears to matter much. Laster once was involved in a campaign for Lee Murphy, a Republican who ran twice against Sen. Harris McDowell Jr., a Wilmington Democrat, in the early 2000s.
McDowell seems ready to let political bygones be bygones with Laster -- probably made easier by the fact that McDowell clobbered Murphy each time by about 64 percent of the vote.
"I certainly wouldn't hold that against him," McDowell said.
It all should make for a memorable experience for Laster in his Executive Committee hearing. DeLuca will have the gavel there, but if all goes well, Laster will get one, too.