Posted: Jan. 13, 2004
THIS IS POLITICS?
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The politics on the first
day of the 2004 legislative session, held Tuesday in Dover, seemed
to be conducted under a truce so powerful that the partisans
sometimes looked as though they were switching sides in a series of
weird role reversals that could happen only in Delaware.
The state House of
Representatives, which has a Republican majority, was the prime host
for Hadassah Lieberman, who stopped by to advance the candidacy of
her husband, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, for the Democratic
The state Senate, which is
run by the Democrats, took the lead in a tender tribute to U.S. Sen.
William V. Roth Jr., the Republican warhorse who died last month.
Even the governor, who is
known to be partisan with the best of them, only managed a lukewarm
display of it. Democrat Ruth Ann Minner, still nursing her knee back
from replacement surgery, arrived at her Legislative Hall office
with a brown leather footstool in the shape of a donkey, a gift from
her Cabinet for propping up her leg in Democratic style.
contributed to the spirit of neutrality. She told Grapevine she has
decided not to endorse any of the nine Democratic presidential
candidates before the Delaware primary on Feb. 3. "There are good
candidates, so people have to choose which of the good is the best,"
The governor further joined
in the political truce by meeting with both Hadassah Lieberman and
U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Richards Roth, who along with some members
of her husband's Senate staff came to Dover for the tribute.
The fights are lurking --
between the parties, between the governor and the legislature, over
geographical differences, over gay rights and so on, but on this
day, the peacemaking kept going and going in the little state that
glories in the way it so often blurs the lines.
Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the
GOP national committeewoman who is said to be as sharply Republican
as Minner is Democratic, was introduced by Democratic Treasurer Jack
A. Markell to Hadassah Lieberman and said, "There's only one
Democratic candidate I can possibly live with, and that's your
In the House chamber,
Republican Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith presented a framed picture
of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the iconic Democratic president, he
had found on a vacation to Democratic Minority Leader Robert F.
Gilligan. Without a peep from the Republican majority, Gilligan
thanked Smith by declaring, "The gentleman saved the country. He was
a liberal Democrat, I'm a liberal Democrat. I'm proud to have his
Nor was there a dissenting
word in the House when Democratic Rep. Melanie L. George gave a
short pro-Lieberman speech in introducing Hadassah Lieberman, who
shook some hands but did not speak herself.
No Republican put in a plug
for President George W. Bush, and there was no rebuttal from other
Democratic representatives who have endorsed other candidates --
Rep. Dennis P. Williams for Wesley K. Clark, Reps. Helene M. Keeley
and John J. Viola for Richard A. Gephardt, or Rep. Hazel D. Plant
for Alfred C. Sharpton.
In the Senate chamber, there
was bipartisan admiration for Bill Roth. "All of us, regardless of
our political affiliation, we all want to honor him," said
Democratic President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr.
Adams is a Sussex Countian,
as originally were the Richards, Jane Roth's family, going back to
Colonial times, and Adams proudly announced that he and the judge
The state Senate gave Jane
Roth 34 roses, one for each year that Bill Roth was in the Congress
-- four years in the House of Representatives and 30 years in the
Senate -- and also a Delaware flag that was flown over Legislative
Hall at half-staff in his memory. She also was given a
similarly-displayed U.S. flag from the state House.
One of the state senators
offering a tribute was Democratic Majority Leader Harris B. McDowell
III, whose father Harris Jr. was a Democratic congressman until Bill
Roth beat him in 1966 and did it again in a rematch in 1968.
McDowell said Roth was always cordial to him.
"It gives me great pleasure
to rise today," McDowell said. "Sen. Roth's career in Congress began
as my father's ended. The two were not coincidental. Certainly we
will all miss him."
Jane Roth told both chambers
that the bipartisan presentation formalized what Bill Roth believed.
"The people of Delaware were his prime concern, whatever their
political party, whatever their part of the state," she said.
If there was any
undercurrent of politics in Legislative Hall, it was speculation
about the insurance commissioner's race, which blew open late last
week when Donna Lee Williams, the three-term Republican incumbent,
announced she would not seek re-election this year.
Two Republicans -- Jeffrey
E. Cragg and Peter K. Schaeffer -- have expressed interest in
running, and two Democrats -- Matthew P. Denn and Karen Weldin
Stewart -- already are in the field, but another possible candidate
being mentioned is state Rep. Donna D. Stone, a Dover Republican.
For now, Stone neither is
putting herself in nor taking herself out. "If a door opens, at
least look at what's behind the door. It's very complimentary. I
appreciate the interest. I'm talking to the people who are talking
to me about it," she said.
This first day back in Dover
also included some pageantry commemorating the 300th anniversary of
the first Delaware assembly in 1704 after the "lower three counties"
split from Pennsylvania, while both still were under British rule.
A fife-and-drum corps, its
four members outfitted in Colonial costume, played for the House.
This is the same chamber that ended its 2003 session by setting up
larger-than-life cutouts of Elvis and Humphrey Bogart and previously
discussed whether cell phones or sex caused more car wrecks.
From the days of Caesar
Rodney, John Dickinson and Thomas McKean, it has come down to that.
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