Posted: Jan. 14, 2003
PEACE FOR A TIME?
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
There could be but peace for a time in the
In a great show of unity Tuesday, the 21
members of the upper chamber -- all 13 Democrats and eight
Republicans -- voted on the first day of the General Assembly to
have Democrat Thurman G. Adams Jr. of Bridgeville lead the Senate as
the president pro tem.
A standing ovation for Adams and pledges of
cooperation followed the roll call, but the applause scarcely had
ended before there were hints that the goodwill flowed more from the
traditional camaraderie of opening day than from a reservoir that
The clues were in the committee assignments
that Adams handed out, a fractured vote on the Senate rules and the
dark mutterings afterwards in the corridors of Legislative Hall,
where grudges fester and intrigue grows.
Thurman Adams, a craggy feed dealer of few
words and strong emotion, given to the elaborate courtesies for
which Sussex Countians are known, got to be the president pro tem
the hard way.
Elected in 1972, Adams is the longest serving
state senator in Delaware history. He waited his turn patiently,
rising to Senate majority leader before the way opened to the
ranking position with the retirement of Thomas B. Sharp, a Pinecrest
Even then Adams waited. After he indicated he
would prefer that the post seek him, Elsmere Democrat Patricia M.
Blevins made her move in maneuverings last month. From the 13
Democrats, she rounded up seven votes from fellow New Castle County
members in a classic upstate/downstate split.
It appeared to be enough to make Blevins the
president pro tem, but after what was said to be a little shuttle
diplomacy masterminded by Kenton Democrat Nancy W. Cook, the vote of
Wilmington Democrat Harris B. McDowell III was shifted from Blevins
to Adams by the time the caucus met in December.
To seal Adams' victory, the Senate Republicans
under new Minority Leader John C. Still III of Dover promised Adams
the votes to ensure his election if the rest of the Democratic
caucus refused to come around. After 30 unending years as a
downtrodden minority, the Republicans were looking for any edge they
By the roll call, Adams had all the votes and
a moment of glory. "Thank you. Thank you so much," he said.
In a long legislative tradition of rewarding
friends, the leadership slots and choice committee assignments went
to Adams' allies. Of the two upstate Democrats who supported him,
McDowell emerged as majority leader and Anthony J. DeLuca of Newark
as the majority whip.
Cook returned to favored status as the
co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, the General
Assembly's most coveted panel. She had lost the post, which she had
held for more than a decade, when Sharp was the president pro tem.
When some legislators go up, others must come
down. Blevins was dropped as the chair of the Bond Bill Committee,
which drafts the state construction budget, but did keep a seat on
the panel and also remained as the chair of the Health & Social
David B. McBride, a Hawk's Nest Democrat, was
booted off the Joint Finance Committee. Instead, he was made the
chair of the Sunset Committee, an unpopular panel with the tedious
job of reviewing state agencies, often regarded as a dumping ground
for out-of-favor lawmakers and freshmen. He did keep the chair of
the Natural Resources & Environmental Control Committee.
On the Republican side of the aisle, perhaps
the biggest loser was Colin R.J. Bonini of Dover. Not only is there
friction between Bonini and fellow Kent Countian John Still, but
Bonini counts Blevins as a friend. In fact, he borrowed her Bible
for his swearing-in when he forgot to bring his own. Bonini wound up
on the Sunset Committee, too.
So it went. "I do wish they [committee
assignments] were different," Blevins said.
Out of the dissatisfaction, a curious alliance
arose between two senators. Already they are calling themselves the
"Odd Couple." They are Bonini, a conservative, and Karen E.
Peterson, a liberal Democrat newly elected to Tom Sharp's old seat.
Together Bonini and Peterson challenged the
new Senate leadership by being the only two to vote against the
Senate rules. Peterson said she particularly was troubled by a rule
that lets bills be killed by keeping them in committee indefinitely.
She said the tactic was used in the last legislative session against
two bills that deserved a vote -- a bill on gay anti-discrimination
and a bill that would have toughened drunken-driving standards.
"I campaigned against that rule," Peterson
said. "I suggest we have a new Dead-on-Arrival Committee."
DeLuca, the new majority whip, promised there
would be a review of Senate rules once the current set was adopted.
Although it was only the first day of the
session and Bonini has not been down long, he already was insisting
it looked like up to him. "It is liberating. They have created the
most dangerous politicians of all -- those with nothing to lose," he
By the evening of opening day, it was business
as usual in the corridors of Legislative Hall, where grudges fester
and intrigue grows.
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