A Delaware political update: part 4, Lieutenant Governor and Insurance Commissioner

The final two statewide offices on the ballot this fall may seem insignificant but potentially can have a great effect on people’s lives. At the moment, though, there’s not a great deal of interest in these ballot lines as only a few candidates have actually filed between the two downballot races.

The lieutenant governor’s race is generally ignored unless and until a day nearly four years later when we wake up to realize the second banana is now the fruit in charge. The last time this happened in Delaware it was a brief precursor to what was to come as then-LG Ruth Ann Minner got a few extra days at the helm when her former boss Tom Carper moved on to the U.S. Senate in 2001.

While we never know what will happen to the sitting governor, we do know that the incumbent, Bethany Hall-Long, is seeking a second term of her own. Hall-Long won a six-way Democrat primary in 2016 but is likely to be unopposed in her primary this time. She worked her way up the ladder by serving 14 years between the Delaware House (6) and Senate (8).

The Republicans were initially believed to have a gubernatorial candidate by the name of Kevin Baron, but he decided not to enter the race. Instead, he is now on the Independent Party of Delaware ticket as their lieutenant governor candidate, recently appearing at the Reopen Delaware rally as a team with their gubernatorial candidate Kathy DeMatteis.

In turn, although she hasn’t formally filed, the GOP is pushing Donyale Hall as their LG candidate. I’m not sure if having a candidate with the same last name as the incumbent was intentional, but Hall seems to have a relatively standard GOP platform stressing education, economic advancement, and “effective” government. (As opposed to limited government, I suppose.)

At this time there is no primary race for any of those spots, but the same is not true for Insurance Commissioner.

Right now the current Insurance Commissioner is Democrat Trinidad Navarro, who will seek a second term. Navarro, who came into the race as the New Castle County sheriff (first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014), surprised the incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart in the 2016 Democrat primary and defeated Republican Jeff Cragg in the general election. He has an opponent in his primary by the name of Kayode Abegunde; unfortunately, Kayode’s biggest problem is an extraordinarily painful to read website – not to mention a presumably well-funded incumbent.

On the other side, instead of Cragg making a third try for statewide office, the Republican candidate is Dr. Julia Pillsbury, who has a military background and wasn’t previously directly involved in the insurance business. She’s pledging to be an independent voice and advocate for patients and ratepayers and, while she hasn’t filed yet, is listed on the state GOP website as a candidate so we’ll go with it.

Over the years there have been a sprinkling of minor party aspirants for the position, but so far none have emerged for 2020.

So that concludes the state races up to this point, although much will likely change before the July filing deadline. I’ll likely do an updated series of posts once we know all the candidates on the primary ballot – if they are uncontested I may wait until October to revisit the races. (I want to get to the monoblogue Accountability Project as quickly as possible this summer since over 50 of the sitting legislators are on the ballot. Maybe we can goad some conservatives into making a last-minute bid.)

In the meantime, I have planned for one last part where I look at the doings so far in eleven Sussex County races – nine for the state House and two for the state Senate. In looking at the filings to date, though, I may postpone this final part a few weeks and see what develops, because in 2018 there was only one contested primary out of 12 seats available in the county. If the same holds true there may be little point in doing Sussex County legislative races as a post – I’ll just add them to the widget.

A Delaware political update: part 2, the U.S. House race

After looking at one statewide federal race in my last post, I’m going to tackle the other one today. In a game of musical chairs that I suppose is part of the “Delaware Way”, our current governor left his seat in the House four years ago to run for the office, leaving an opening and several Democrats salivating to fill that House seat. Lisa Blunt Rochester (for sake of typing, I’ll call her LBR) was the survivor among the Democrat field and has prevailed in the general election twice, first defeating Republican Hans Riegle by 14.5 points in 2016 and perennial candidate Scott Walker by 28 points in 2018. She’s gotten a lot of mileage out of being the first “woman and person of color” representing Delaware in Congress.

However, while her Senate counterpart Chris Coons is fighting a primary opponent from the left, LBR has an announced (but not filed) opponent who would most likely nestle himself to her right, and perhaps even right of center. I have to say, though, that I have not heard much about the run of Andrew Webb and his campaign Facebook page (which is apparently the only campaign organ) has not been updated regularly.

Even more recently, a lady named Anne Kerner has filed the FEC paperwork for the House seat despite having a campaign listed as being for the governor’s chair. With that confusion combined with lack of presence – and given the steep filing fees in Delaware – it’s likely LBR will be unopposed on the Democrat side.

Also unopposed for a party bid according to the state BOE is Libertarian David Rogers, but he’s running a pretty stealth campaign so far since I can’t dig up a website, social media, or anything like that. Don’t you just hate that?

So again we end up on the Republican side, where we have a previously unsuccessful aspirant against a first-time candidate who has had issues with substance abuse. It’s deja vu all over again.

Playing the role of unsuccessful aspirant is Lee Murphy, who has tried this before – this is his (at least) fourth bite of the apple, having been an unsuccessful state legislative contender in 2014 and 2016 (he did not make the general election ballot in either case) and losing in the 2018 GOP primary to Scott Walker. (Per Ballotpedia, Murphy has also ran without success for New Castle County council, but for the sake of this comparison we will go with this being his fourth try.)

Yes, he lost to Scott freaking Walker, the guy who hasn’t yet found a tree he wouldn’t like to nail an illegal campaign sign to. The guy who was running as a Democrat again, for president. I’m sure Lee is a nice guy, and he was probably as surprised as anyone the day after the 2018 primary, but he lost to Scott Walker so what does that tell you about his chances against an opponent with money and actual personality? (Or, what does that tell you about Delaware primary voters? Maybe there was something to that 2010 criticism the establishment had.) Anyway, it looks like Lee’s running a solid if not spectacular primary campaign, so maybe he’s not taking this for granted as he may have before.

So if Murphy doesn’t have hindsight, why is his opponent promoting his? Matthew Morris promises “Restoring Power to the People” but he also has a unique backstory, including a stint in prison. But he’s promising accountability should he be elected to Congress.

Being a Congressman shouldn’t be about reporting to Washington and leaving my constituents behind, never to be seen again, or at least not until the next election time.  No, I want to be involved with ALL of my constituents ALL THE TIME .  That means, when voting on bills, I want to provide the State of Delaware with real time information and interaction about what is being passed, why it has been brought before the house, and base my voting directly reflecting my constituent’s wants and needs.

https://www.matthewmorrisfordelaware.com/platform

I must say that, being a resident of a seemingly forgotten corner of the state, it would be nice to have a representative who has a little involvement here. But Matt has a curious set of priorities: the opioid epidemic, education, and prison reform are his top issues. The question is whether Republican voters would agree with him?

If you’re not excited about these alternatives, the biggest problem is that there’s basically no time left for anyone with no name recognition to get into the race. Moreover, since Delaware is a one-district state, the House isn’t going to draw the same caliber of candidate a Senate race would get – why constantly be campaigning when you can represent the same district for six years and wield comparatively more power? We know LBR is probably waiting in the wings for Tom Carper to retire to move up, although there are probably a few other Democrats who would like the seat as well.

I’m hoping someone excites me with the prospect of improving our representation, but so far that’s not happened.

Gazing northward at a campaign

With Maryland’s primary in the rear-view mirror and the fields all set, the timing of Delaware’s filing deadline was good for my purposes. By the time they have their September 6 primary, the campaigns will be in full swing in both states.

Unlike Maryland, Delaware doesn’t have a gubernatorial election this year, as Democrat John Carney is in place until 2020. I would expect him to begin his re-election campaign in the early stages of 2019; in the meantime there are three state government offices up for grabs there: Attorney General, State Treasurer, and State Auditor. (The offices are self-explanatory; in Delaware the Treasurer serves the same purpose as Maryland’s Comptroller.)

Since incumbent Delaware AG Matt Denn (a Democrat) is not seeking another term, the race is wide open. Given the perception Delaware is a Democrat-run state, there are four Democrats seeking to succeed Denn while only one Republican is running. On the Democratic side we have:

  • Kathy Jennings of Wilmington, who most recently served as Chief Administrative Officer of New Castle County but has also served as Chief Deputy AG in the past.
  • Chris Johnson of Wilmington, a private-practice attorney who has specialized in fighting voter suppression, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Delaware Center for Justice.
  • Tim Mullaney of Dover, currently the Director of Labor Services for the National Fraternal Order of Police but was Jennings’ predecessor as Chief Administrative Officer of New Castle County.
  • LaKresha Roberts of Wilmington, the current Chief Deputy AG under Denn.

On the Republican side, the lone aspirant is Peggy Marshall Thomas of Harbeson, who has served as the Sussex County prosecutor. She bills herself as the first Delaware woman to serve 30 years as a prosecutor. My guess is that she will face either Jennings or Roberts in the general election.

In the case of the state Treasurer, the field for November is already set as just one candidate from three of the on-ballot parties is represented:

  • David Chandler of Newark, the Green Party candidate for Treasurer in 2014 and a State Senate seat in 2016.
  • Colleen Davis of Dagsboro, who is self-employed “as a consultant to major health-care systems” and running as the Democrat.
  • Ken Simpler of Newark, the incumbent Republican first elected in 2014. Prior to that, he was CFO for Seaboard Hotels.

Longtime State Auditor Tom Wagner (a Republican) opted not to seek another term for health reasons, opening the way for a new face in the office. The Democrats have three interested in the position:

  • Kathleen Davies of Dover, who has spent six years as the Chief Administrative Auditor.
  • Kathy McGuiness of Rehoboth Beach, a longtime Town Commissioner who most recently ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2016.
  • Dennis Williams of Wilmington, who served in the Delaware House for six years before losing a primary in 2014.

Trying to succeed his fellow Republican is James Spadola, a former Army Reservist who served in Iraq and has spent time in the finance industry and as a police officer. I’m thinking the race is between Davies and Williams.

But while these are all important elections, my focus this cycle is on the two federal races. For whatever reason, races in Delaware don’t seem to attract the cranks and perennial candidates that we have in Maryland – with one big exception I’ll get to in a moment.

In 2016, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester from Wilmington became the first woman of color to represent Delaware in Congress. As such, she has gotten a free ride through her primary and will face one of two Republicans in the November election:

  • Lee Murphy of Wilmington, a retired railroad worker who moonlights as an actor. He’s previously run unsuccessfully for New Castle County Council and twice for State Senate.
  • Scott Walker of Milford – no, not the governor, but a previous candidate for Congress (2016) who ran that time as a Democrat and finished fifth in a six-person primary.

Most likely it will be a matchup of Murphy vs. Rochester, with the incumbent being a heavy favorite.

The other race pits incumbent Senator Tom Carper against a fellow Democrat in the primary. Carper, yet another Wilmington resident, has been a fixture in Delaware politics, serving as Senator since 2001 after an eight-year run as Governor that began when he arranged to swap positions with then-Governor Mike Castle in 1992. (Castle served in the House from 1993-2011, succeeding the five-term incumbent Carper.) Before all that, he was State Treasurer from 1977-83 – add it all up and Carper has spent the last 41 years in political office.

His opponent hails from Dover, and she is a Bernie Sanders acolyte. Kerri Evelyn Harris describes herself as “a veteran, advocate, and community organizer” who is opposing Carper from the far left. It will be a definite study in contrasts, with the 38-year-old woman of color and mother of two who professes to be a lesbian in her first race facing the 71-year-old political veteran. It will most likely be a successful primary for Carper, who will probably play rope-a-dope with his opponent by denying her the opportunities for face-to-face debates and other methods of low-cost publicity.

That may not be allowed for the general election, where there will be three opposing Carper. On his left may be a repeat of the Harris candidacy with Green Party candidate Demetri Theodoropoulos of Newark holding their banner, while the Libertarian Party runs Nadine Frost, who previously ran for a City Council seat in Wilmington two years ago. (Aside from changing the title, her campaign Facebook page appears to be in that mode.)

While the two main opponents may not be as far apart on the issues on the GOP side, they are geographic opposites in the state. And the quixotic entry of a third person (who is an extreme geographic opposite) may make some impact in the race. That person is Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, who hails from San Diego but is on the ballot for Senate in Delaware…as well as Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. (He’s already lost in California.) Delaware will be his last chance as the remaining states all have their primaries in August.

De La Fuente, who ran as a (mainly write-in) Presidential candidate in 2016 representing both the Reform Party and his American Delta Party – after trying for the Senate seat from Florida as a Democrat (to oppose Marco Rubio) – is undergoing this campaign to point out the difficulties of being an independent candidate. He’s taking advantage of loose state laws that don’t extend the definition of eligibility for a Senate seat beyond the Constitutional ones of being over 30 and an “inhabitant” of the state at the time of election – in theory he could move to Delaware on November 1 and be just fine.

So the question is whether the 1 to 3 percent De La Fuente draws (based on getting 2% in California’s recent primary) will come from the totals of Rob Arlett or Gene Truono.

Truono is a first-time candidate who was born and raised in Wilmington and spent most of his life in the financial services industry, most recently as Chief Compliance Officer for PayPal. While he’s lived most of his life in Delaware, he’s also spent time in Washington, D.C. in the PayPal job as well as New York City with JP Morgan Chase and American Express.

From the extreme southern end of Delaware near Fenwick Island, Arlett owns a real estate company, is an ordained Christian officiant and onetime Naval reservist, and has represented his district on Sussex County Council since 2014. But there are two things Arlett is more well-known for: he spearheaded the drive to make Sussex County a right-to-work county and, while he’s never undertaken a statewide campaign for himself he was the state chair of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

Since it’s highly unlikely De La Fuente will emerge from the primary, the question becomes which of these two conservatives (if either became Senator, it’s likely their actions will fall under the Reagan 80% rule for the other) will prevail. Obviously Truono has the bigger voter base in New Castle County, but he’s laboring as a basic unknown whereas Arlett may have more familiarity with voters around the state as the Trump campaign chair. But would that repel moderate Republicans?

Of the statewide races in Delaware, I think the Senate one is the most likely to not be a snoozer. I’ll be an interested observer, that’s for sure.

A chance to speak out

August is the time when official Washington shuts down, the tourists take over, and those who represent us return to their respective districts. Many use the opportunity to host townhall meetings in an effort to hear from and interact with his or her constituents.

But I’m fairly willing to bet that, aside from the possible exception of Andy Harris, you won’t hear a much more conservative voice conducting a townhall meeting than former Senator Jim DeMint, and you won’t have to travel to South Carolina or the fetid swamp of Washington, D.C. to attend. As part of Heritage Action and their proactive fight against Obamacare, the former Senator will be appearing in Joe Biden’s old stomping grounds of Wilmington, Delaware.

Seeing that the Eastern Shore isn’t all that far from Wilmington, this may be a good time investment for those of us interested in how some activists are combating Obamacare.

I suspect the number of former Senators will outnumber the number of current Delaware Senators at the meeting. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Tom Carper, Chris Coons, and Rep. John Carney counter-program with their own meetings that night, just to try and divide and conquer the Delaware opposition, such as the 9/12 Delaware Patriots.

Too bad there’s a lot of First State residents who agree with DeMint and Heritage Action.

Harris withdraws from 1st CD debates

While Andy Harris was given the hugest of electoral breaks by the withdrawal of Democrat challenger Wendy Rosen – who, unless Maryland Democrats can pull a Robert Torricelli via the courts, will remain on the ballot despite dropping out – I believe he shouldn’t have pulled out of the various candidate debates.

My view is shared by Libertarian Muir Boda, who probably stood the most to gain by having yet another empty chair on the Democratic side. In a release, Boda noted:

After observing the withdrawal of Democrat Wendy Rosen from the race amid voter fraud allegations, I had not anticipated another action of disrespect to the voters in the 1st District. Congressman Harris’ actions are simply arrogant cowardice as he is obviously afraid to debate me.

Congressman Harris’ pulling out of all forums is a complete slap in the face to all the voters and the organizations that are taking their time to organize the forums by securing a place to have the forum, organizing resources to record the forums and to the those who desired to attend and to participate in the discussion of the future of country.

Congressman Harris has many questions to answer. For instance, we need an explanation on why, as a so called fiscal conservative he would support adding another $1 Trillion to our national debt. Or where does he really stand on the TSA, the Patriot Act and the NDAA.

I truly don’t think it’s fear of debating Muir on Andy’s part, but answering some of these questions Boda brings up would be helpful to me in understanding why Harris acted in a less conservative manner than normal – particularly on the continuing resolution vote.

Alan Girard of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which was a lead sponsor of the September 24 debate, had this to say as well:

We are disappointed voters won’t hear the views of candidates for Congress on “Farming and Protecting the Environment,” the topic of a scheduled debate we had planned with the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University. Mr. Harris had agreed to participate in the Sept. 24 debate, but this week told us he is withdrawing from this and all other scheduled debates.

Without Mr. Harris’ participation, and uncertainty about other candidates’ participation, staging a debate seems unproductive, and we are announcing the cancellation of the debate which was to be held at Salisbury University. We apologize to voters who planned to attend.

We are pleased, however, that Mr. Harris has agreed to announce a schedule of public town meetings around the 1st District at which citizens can pose questions to the Congressman.

Let’s face it, though: I don’t think the CBF was going to do anything but sandbag Andy because they vehemently disagree with his balanced approach to environmental issues. If it were up to the most radical members of the CBF we’d all be forcably moved into tiny enclaves far away from the pristine waters at the mouth of the Susquehanna. Moreover, I couldn’t be there anyway to make sure people knew what really happened.

While I’m happy to see that Harris isn’t abandoning the public debate entirely, I believe he’s making a big mistake by canceling his participation in these debates and forums, unfriendly as the territory may be. Fairly or not, Andy has received a reputation of being callous and aloof (lifesaving traffic stops notwithstanding) and dropping out of these head-to-head contests only enhances the perception. Certainly Harris does his share of townhall-style events around the district during periods when Congress is out of session, but a compare-and-contrast was something he shouldn’t be afraid of in a district essentially drawn for him.

On the other hand, I learned via Duke Brooks that Delaware voters will be treated to not one, not two, but ten (!) debates between U.S. Senator Tom Carper and Republican challenger Kevin Wade. (Note to Ben Cardin: the ante has been upped.) Of course, the devil is in the details but Delaware voters will certainly have ample opportunity to get a picture of where the two hopefuls (and whatever minor party candidates are invited to participate) stand on issues near and dear to Delaware voters. It may not be Lincoln v. Douglas but they will be better served by the opportunity to attend in person.

Political perspective on poultry

As part of the opening ceremonies for the Delmarva Chicken Festival, we heard from a number of poultry industry figures, the agriculture secretaries of our respective states, and local representatives to Congress.

I’m going to have a more broad view of the proceedings later this weekend, but I wanted to point out some of what was said about the poultry industry, which event co-chair Robbie Tarpley Raffish called “one of the most important things we can teach our children.”

Leading off the proceedings was Senator Tom Carper from Delaware, who sent the regards for many of his colleagues on the Hill, including fellow Senators Coons, Cardin, and Mikulski. Carper stated the government has many roles to play, but they did not create jobs. Instead, their task was “nurturing the environment for job creation.”

Carper went on to talk about opening up foreign markets to agricultural products, in particular focusing on Mexico, Russia, and China, which was accessed through Hong Kong. He claimed President Obama has been “very forceful” in trying to open up new markets to agriculture in general and poultry in particular. Carper claimed that 80 percent of Delaware’s agricultural business is poultry, and with plenty of Mountaire chicken being cooked on the premises that figure doesn’t seem to be a stretch.

Another interesting tidbit from Carper was his assessment that poultry interests had achieved a success in eliminating both the ethanol tax credit and foreign tariff. This was considered a success because over half the cost of raising a chicken comes from feeding it. I have to agree that corn should be grown for food, not fuel.

Compared to Senator Carper, Rep. Andy Harris spoke quite briefly, believing “we should thank God for the poultry industry” and arguing that federal regulations are killing the poultry industry. “We get the message” from farmers who want the government off their back, said Harris.

There was a little bit of friendly rivalry between the two agriculture secretaries.

Maryland’s Buddy Hance led off by bragging about Maryland’s agricultural prowess, but noted as a grain farmer on the Western Shore he and his cohorts appreciated the poultry industry. One out of five people on Delmarva work for the poultry industry, said Hance.

Ed Kee of Delaware welcomed us to southern Sussex County, joking there was a bill in Delaware to annex the remainder of Delmarva to the state. (Some of us wouldn’t mind – politically a greater Delaware incorporating the Eastern Shore would likely be at worst a swing state and possibly a “red” one.) But Kee made the great observation that “the best environmentalists are the farmers.” (If I may add my own observation: I don’t know what political conditions are like in Dover, but that’s something surely lost on Annapolis.)

The last political word went to Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton, who welcomed the festival to Salisbury and called our fair city one which knows the importance of the agricultural industry. He also promised “we will do everything we can to keep Perdue here.”

So that was what was said. It’s also worth stating that a large segment of local legislators were representing themselves at the festival. From the city of Salisbury were Ireton and City Council member Laura Mitchell, and Wicomico County’s delegation from County Council numbered six of the seven (missing was at-large Council member Matt Holloway.) Similarly, state Delegates Addie Eckardt, Charles Otto and Mike McDermott stopped in as well as both local Senators, Rich Colburn and Jim Mathias, the one Democrat who stopped by the GOP tent to say hello. As well, at least four local Delaware state legislators were present.

I was also told that Congressional candidate Wendy Rosen was there along with Harris, but since I wouldn’t know her by face I can’t verify this. I do know that GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Bongino will be at the festival tomorrow morning as part of an Eastern Shore campaign swing (he’s also stopping in Ocean City.) Hopefully he’s home this evening brushing up on poultry concerns, although if he speaks to Carper and Harris he could get a reasonable primer with the exception of the Obama remark by Senator Carper.

I’m told next year’s event will be in Snow Hill, so GOP hopefuls for state offices should notate their calendars now for a trip to Worcester County in mid-June, 2013. Just because it’s an odd-numbered year doesn’t mean name recognition is unnecessary and smart candidates are out cultivating the base.