Posted: Sept. 20, 2016
THE GENERATIONS, THEY AREN'T A-CHANGIN'
By Celia Cohen
It is still good to be a Baby Boomer in Delaware politics. But the Millennials? Eh, not yet.
The Millennials' time is coming, for sure, but for now, it must sting a little, especially because there is still some enduring life in the Silent Generation, which was actually never quiet here.
Generational politics was at play last week in the 2016 primaries from Wilmington to New Castle County to the statewide offices.
Not that it was much noticed, not when it was overshadowed by the triumphant demographical breakout of Lisa Blunt Rochester, the double-barrier-buster who won the Democratic congressional primary and set herself up to be the first woman and first African-American member of the state's federal delegation.
Generationally, Rochester is nothing but an old story. Another Baby Boomer.
It means the delegation, which will continue to have a couple of Baby Boomers in Tom Carper and Chris Coons, the Democratic senators who are not up this year, will stay all-Baby Boomer.
As a Democrat in a deep-blue state, Rochester is easily favored to win the election on Nov. 8 for the state's lone congressional seat, but even if she did not, there would be no generational shift because Hans Reigle, the Republican candidate, is a Baby Boomer, too.
The Millennials gave it a shot in the primaries. Two of the more intriguing candidates on the ballot were a couple of Millennials, namely, Bryan Townsend, the runner-up to Rochester, and Eugene Young, who slipped into second place in the wild and woolly Democratic race for mayor.
There will not be a Millennial in any prominent office in Delaware. It is a cinch there will be someone from the Silent Generation, astonishingly enough, with Mike Purzycki seizing the Democratic nomination for mayor in a city that has been impregnably Democratic for decades.
Poor Generation X. Its best showing was maybe Matt Meyer winning the Democratic primary for New Castle County executive, but really. That office has got to be the booby prize of Delaware politics, unless it is insurance commissioner, which naturally also went to a Gen X-er in the Democratic primary. Nice going, Trini Navarro.
As booby prizes go, there is also the Republican nomination for governor. It went to Colin Bonini, and guess what? Bonini is another Gen X-er.
As of now, Delaware has yet to put anyone younger than a Baby Boomer in its highest offices, the ones for governor, two senators and congressperson.
Beau Biden most certainly would have broken through, had he run as a Gen X-er to become the next Democratic governor, but it was not to be.
Instead, the biggest and baddest generation of Delaware politics is still the Baby Boomers, led there by Jack Markell, the Democratic governor who has made a point of it with his secret identity, uncloaked only for performances at the First State Gridiron show, as Bad-Ass Jack.
The Baby Boomers in their day moved out the Silent Generation and have yet to yield to Generation X or the Millennials, and that is the way of politics.
Silent Generation (born 1925-1945.) Forget the name, the Silent Generation roared into office in the early 1970s. It displaced the Greatest Generation, which came home from World War II and swarmed into politics to take over, until it faltered against the Vietnam War and the imperative of civil rights.
The Silent Generation had panache. It had savior faire. It had Joe Biden, a Democratic senator at 29. It had Pete du Pont, a Republican congressman at 35 on his way to being the governor. It had Tom Maloney, a Democratic mayor at 30. It got Delaware going again.
All three of them -- Biden, du Pont and Maloney -- made Time magazine's nationwide list of 200 rising leaders in 1974, although Maloney was out of politics two years later, when he failed to displace Bill Roth, the Republican senator out of the Greatest Generation.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964.) The Silent Generation got company rather quickly from the Baby Boomers. By the mid-1970s, Tom Carper was hurtling into the streak that has given him the most statewide victories in Delaware history as a Democratic treasurer, congressman, governor and senator at 13 wins . . . and counting.
Right there with Carper was Rick Collins, elected as the Republican auditor, but Collins moved to county executive and naturally was never heard from politically again. The only county executive ever to escape was Chris Coons, and it took Christine O'Donnell, his Republican opponent for senator, uttering the most famous denial of witchcraft since Dorothy in the Land of Oz.
The Baby Boomers had have two governors in Carper and Markell, and it looks like a third one is on the way with John Carney, the Democratic congressman, running for the office this time.
Generation X (born 1965-1980.) Behind the Baby Boomers are the late bloomers, the Gen X-ers who have yet to crack the political ceiling without Beau Biden to do the shattering.
Still, they have time. It is worth noting it took 10 years to make it from lesser office to high office for both Markell, elected treasurer in 1998 and governor in 2008, and Carney, elected lieutenant governor in 2000 and congressman in 2010.
Matt Denn was the first Gen X-er into statewide office in a political odyssey that has taken him from Democratic insurance commissioner in 2004 to lieutenant governor in 2008 to attorney general in 2014. He was joined in 2014 by Ken Simpler, the Republican treasurer.
Millennials (born 1981-2000.) Statewide office is still beyond the reach of the Millennials, who have yet to make even much of a mark in the legislature, where their only members are Bryan Townsend, a Democratic state senator, Jeff Spiegelman, a Republican state representative, and Sean Matthews and David Bentz, both Democratic state representatives.
Still, the Republicans have big plans for the Millennials, legislatively speaking. They recruited Millennials to try to take over the state Senate, where the Republicans have not had the majority since 1973. They need to flip two seats in the 21-member chamber to take charge for the first time in, well, generations.