Posted: Sept. 8, 2011
A GUIDE TO ENDANGERED LEGISLATORS
By Celia Cohen
Not all of the state legislators will be around after the 2012 election. This is undisputed. The main reason is redistricting, although there are other reasons, too.
The mapmaking violated the Delaware General Assembly's most cherished and most self-interested principle of one-legislator-one-district because there was no way around it. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives wound up sticking members together to account for population bulges and contractions around the state.
Sometimes the Constitution with its insistence on one-person-one-vote can be so inconvenient. Whose legislature is this, anyway?
This is the first time in 40 years that the Democrats' Senate majority could be threatened. Not so much the Democrats' House majority, even though it is still young, emerging only with the 2008 election. There is a lot to factor in.
THE TOP OF THE TICKET. All of Legislative Hall was stunned as it dawned on people that the Republicans really could win the Senate in the next election or so. A Republican Senate majority? That has been about as far-fetched as Mike Castle losing an election.
The Senate Republicans probably can forget about upending the Democrats' 14-7 majority unless their party starts acting like a party and fields a statewide ticket. So far, the ballot is bare, while the Democrats are power-packed with incumbents with Jack Markell for governor, Tom Carper for senator, John Carney for congressman and Matt Denn for lieutenant governor.
The Republicans only have to look to the last election to know what happens when the top of the ticket is wanting. All across America, the Republicans won in 2010, but not here. Christine O'Donnell, running for the Senate, took care of that.
"If you're going to have a two-party system, the public expects you to field a ticket," said Bob Byrd, a lobbyist who was once a Democratic representative himself.
"It could cost 500 votes per legislative seat. It could mean you lose all the close races."
MAP QUEST. Redistricting means the next election will be awash in legislators. All 41 representatives will be up as always for new two-year terms, but all 21 senators will be on the ballot, too, before they return to their customarily staggered four-year terms.
This is prime time for knocking off incumbents, because all of them not named Gerald Hocker are getting different voters. Hocker, the House's Republican minority whip, had a Sussex County district that gained so many people over the last 10 years, its borders had to shrink to lose some of them.
The Senate Democrats actually hurt themselves, despite their control of redistricting. This would be unfathomable, except the mapmaking happens to correspond to the roll call that barely kept Tony DeLuca as the president pro tem.
The House Democrats, who outnumber the Republicans by 26-15, took no such chances. They merrily merged four Republican representatives into two districts.
"The Democrats have drawn crafty maps," said Greg Lavelle, the Republican minority leader.
A SENATE FOR THE AGES. Sooner or later, some of these senators have to retire. By Election Day, there will be 13 of them who are 65 or older. Happy Social Security to:
Democrats George Bunting, Brian Bushweller, Tony DeLuca, Bruce Ennis, Margaret Rose Henry, Bob Marshall, Dave McBride, Harris McDowell and Bob Venables.
Republicans Dori Connor, Dave Lawson, Gary Simpson and Liane Sorenson.
ENDANGERED LEGISLATORS. In the early going, these are the ones to watch.
Dave Sokola/Liane Sorenson. Sokola was one of the Democratic senators who was an anti-DeLuca vote. He was tossed in with Sorenson, the Republican minority whip, in a Hockessin/Pike Creek Valley district that is more hers than his. They regard each other as friends, so this is just politics.
Michael Katz. He offered himself as the Democratic alternative to DeLuca as pro tem. His new district stretching from Brandywine Hundred to Chateau Country is so big, it takes in all four of the Republican representatives who were reduced to two districts. The one expected to peel off and run against him is Lavelle.
Joe Booth. He barely got through a Republican primary against a Tea Party type for his Sussex County seat in 2010, then riled the voters by revealing immediately afterwards he was giving up the headaches of a small business owner with a dry cleaning operation for life as a bureaucrat at Sussex Tech. People remember stuff like this.
Dori Connor. Her new district is shaped so oddly, swinging from New Castle to below the canal, it is being called "The Great Crescent." It takes Connor, a Republican senator, out of her comfort zone.
Tony DeLuca. He is the pro tem. He drew himself a neat little Senate district south of Newark with lots of Democrats in it. Bet he gets a primary.
George Bunting and Bob Venables. As Democratic senators from Sussex County, Bunting and Venables are probably the last of their kind. Once they decide to retire, the conservative districts they represent are probably destined to go Republican.
Nick Manolakos/Joe Miro. It looks like they will be Republican primary opponents, now that they have been squeezed into a single House district in Hockessin/Pike Creek Valley.
Gerald Brady. The House Democrats did what they could to save a district for Brady, who is one of their own, but it now extends out from his Wilmington base northward into Chateau Country and westward to Hockessin. Brady avoided being downsized, but he was dangerously suburbanized.
Debbie Hudson/Greg Lavelle? They are the two other Republican representatives who were thrown together, except that Hudson would have this Brandywine Hundred/Chateau Country district to herself, as long as Lavelle runs for Katz's Senate seat. Never mind.