Posted: Dec. 11, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

While Delawareans dug out of the first snow storm of the season, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and a bipartisan drove of 25 state legislators were on a government getaway to what was supposed to be sunny Puerto Rico.

It rained every day. A freak tropical storm named Odette, said to be the only one ever in the Caribbean in December, got the island. Maybe there is natural justice in the universe, after all.

"We never saw the sun," said state Rep. Roger P. Roy, a Pike Creek Valley Republican.

The state officials attended the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments' Eastern Regional Conference, which met last Saturday through Tuesday, Dec. 6-9, and coincided with the snowstorm that left as much as a foot of snow at home. The Eastern Region includes 10 northeastern states from Delaware to Maine, along with three Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Naturally the key attraction for going to the conference was the seminars on such topics as Medicaid, federal transportation policy, state finances and energy, and not the prospect of golf and the beach washed out by the storm. If the weather was chancy, at least there was the certainty of local lobbyists in attendance to pick up a tab.

A talk by golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez helped to make it bearable, too.

The reason so many Delawareans went, so the explanation goes, is that Delaware is scheduled to host the 2005 annual meeting of the entire Council of State Governments, not just the Eastern Regional Conference. It is regarded as an opportunity to promote the state and its tourism.

"How many it takes to go [to Puerto Rico], I'm not going to decide that. You have to support them if you want them to come here. I'm expecting 900 people in 2005. That will help the economy," said Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Bridgeville Democrat.

Roy noted there typically are about 20 legislators who participate in meetings sponsored by the Council of State Governments. He said about 15 lawmakers went to a session in Pittsburgh in October.

Adams and Roy are the co-chairmen of the Commission on Interstate Cooperation, which oversees legislative travel. They confirmed the list of legislators in Puerto Rico.

From the 21-member Senate, which has 13 Democrats and eight Republicans, there were five participants: Democrats Adams, Robert I. Marshall and David B. McBride, and Republicans F. Gary Simpson and Liane M. Sorenson.

From the 41-member House of Representatives, which has 29 Republicans and 12 Democrats, there were 20 participants: Republicans Gerald A. Buckworth, V. George Carey, Richard C. Cathcart, Joseph G. DiPinto, J. Benjamin Ewing, Deborah D. Hudson, Joseph E. Miro, G. Robert Quillen, Bruce C. Reynolds, Roy, Terry R. Spence, Donna D. Stone and Nancy H. Wagner, and Democrats Robert F. Gilligan, Helene M. Keeley, Michael P. Mulrooney, Peter C. Schwartzkopf, John F. Van Sant, John J. Viola and Dennis P. Williams.

Delaware had the largest contingent there, according to an attendance list provided to Delaware Grapevine. Massachusetts was next with 11 legislators. Pennsylvania sent three legislators, New Jersey had seven. Vermont sent two.

One conference-goer estimated the cost to the state at $1,500 for each legislator for transportation, hotel, food and registration. Travel for Minner and Roy was paid for by the Council of State Governments because of their leadership roles in the organization, according to Roy.

Minner is in line to become president in 2005, the same year the annual meeting will be in Delaware -- as long, of course, as the first-term Democrat is re-elected governor next year. Delaware gets to keep the conference, regardless.

"The governor's been involved in C.S.G. for years, since her days as a legislator and then lieutenant governor," said Gregory B. Patterson, the communications director for Minner. "She sees it as a meaningful chance to exchange information on policy, especially the budget."

Legislators do know how it looks to their constituents when they jet off to places regarded as vacation destinations. For example, there was this response from state Rep. Melanie L. George, a Wilmington Democrat who did not go, when she was asked, "Puerto Rico?"

"First term!" she said.

Never mind. George recently collected a perquisite of office as one of three legislators, along with DiPinto and Democratic Sen. Harris B McDowell III, who joined a state trade mission to Italy in November.

One of the purposes of the trade mission was to promote Delaware's international reputation as a center for incorporations, so it did not hurt that George is fluent in Italian and practices law at Richards Layton & Finger, a prime corporate law firm.

But it did not hurt that she is a legislator, either.