Posted: Jan. 20, 2004
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
When a bill that would
shrink back the size of the New Castle County Council reaches Gov.
Ruth Ann Minner's desk, she says it is V.O.A. -- Vetoed On Arrival.
acknowledging an override is unlikely, the promised veto appears to
clear the way for an expansion more than a decade in the making to
increase the council from seven members to 13 members beginning with
the 2004 election.
"If you have smaller
districts, you have better representation," Minner said. "I will
veto the bill when it comes to my desk."
The legislation, Senate Bill
53, is on its way to the governor after a largely party-line vote
Tuesday in the Republican-led House of Representatives, which passed
the measure 23-14 with two representatives abstaining and two
absent. The Senate previously approved it in June in the final days
of the 2003 session.
The bill emerged as the
first serious partisan clash of the new legislative session, which
began rather benignly last week. Minner and most of her fellow
Democrats favor the council expansion, while most Republicans oppose
it, although it has taken years for the battle lines to be drawn
By Tuesday, however, the
bill clearly had turned into something of a loyalty test, as was
obvious from the observers it attracted to prowl Legislative Hall
and monitor the debate.
Both New Castle County
Democratic Chairman John D. Daniello and Republican Co-chairman
Thomas S. Ross were there, as were a number of union leaders backing
Daniello and an array of other GOP officials, including state
Chairman Terry A. Strine, reinforcing Ross.
The bill has had a strange
history. The General Assembly, which is responsible for passing the
laws that determine New Castle County's governmental structure, has
been wrestling with expanding the council since the early 1990s as
an antidote to corruption uncovered by a federal investigation into
the rezoning process.
The proposal began as a
Republican initiative, and after years of debate over whether the
council should expand, how much it should expand and when it should
expand, it finally appeared to be set. There was little attention
paid when state Sen. Karen E. Peterson, a first-term Democrat and
past County Council president, pushed a roll-back bill through the
Democratic-run chamber with the help of downstaters who tend to
think upstate already has more than its share of politicians.
Because Peterson's bill
appeared to be regarded as comatose, the County Council, which the
Democrats currently control 5-2, approved new districts designed to
create a majority of at least 8 or 10 Democrats. With that,
Republicans re-examined their motives for an expanded council and
concluded that recent land-use reforms diminished the need for it.
Peterson's bill took on new life.
"What seemed to be reason at
the time has pretty much disappeared," said state Rep. Roger P. Roy,
a Republican who was an early proponent of expansion.
Meanwhile, the Democrats
also re-examined the bill, and they found good government there.
"It's going to open up New Castle County government to the people of
New Castle County," said state Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, a Democrat
who is the House minority leader.
The county's political
leaders echoed their legislators.
"The House vote was very
responsible. The last thing we need to do is spend more money on
politicians," said Ross, the Republican co-chairman.
"They're hypocrites. Did
they really think an overwhelmingly Democratic council was going to
gerrymander seats so there could be more Republicans?" said Daniello,
the Democratic chairman. "We're on the side of the angels, and God
At least, the governor
apparently will. While Minner used good government to make her case
publicly for a veto, the politics are stark. The bill was sponsored
by Peterson, who is threatening to challenge Minner for governor.
The House Republicans are for it. The unions are against it.
There hardly was a doubt
about what Minner would do. "I will take the appropriate action on
the bill when it comes to my desk," she said.
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