Posted: June 3, 2005
There probably were more Davis family members than legislators in the state Senate chamber in Dover on Wednesday, when Alan G. Davis took his seat for his confirmation hearing for chief magistrate.
The lopsided attendance had meaning to it.
First, it showed that Davis was regarded as such as shoo-in there was little need for senators to pay much attention. Second, it showed that his family was so comfortable in Legislative Hall it might as well be a second home -- which was a key reason he appeared so well-positioned for confirmation.
Davis, 33, of Milton, is a Sussex County lawyer who also is an attorney for the Democratic caucus in the state House of Representatives. Other Davises who frequent Legislative Hall are Edward R. "Ned" Davis, a prominent lobbyist who is Alan's great uncle, and Mary C. Davis, who is Ned's daughter and lobbies with him, as well as Edward G. Davis, a magistrate who is Alan's father, and Henry Clay Davis III, a lawyer who is Alan's uncle and runs the Georgetown law firm where Alan works.
All of those Davises plus others came to the hearing, except for Ned Davis. He was in the hospital at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, but he was not about to be left out. The hearing was piped into a speaker in Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr.'s office and then by speaker phone to Ned Davis, who is in fragile health and managed to listen in only briefly.
Vaughn, a Clayton Democrat, knows all about family connections to the Delaware judiciary. His namesake son is the president judge of the Superior Court.
Alan Davis was nominated by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a two-term Democrat, to take over the Justice of the Peace Court, also called the magistrate court, from Patricia W. Griffin, the former chief magistrate who left the post in February to supervise the state court system's administrative arm.
If confirmed as expected, Davis would serve a four-year term with a current annual salary of $117,000. He would be in charge of a court with 60 citizen-judges, who handle small criminal and civil cases, including landlord-tenant matters.
Davis' confirmation hearing before the Senate Executive Committee was a folksy affair, lasting under 15 minutes. Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Bridgeville Democrat who chairs the committee, set the tone immediately.
"We welcome you to the Senate, but you're more familiar with the House," Adams said, acknowledging Davis' insider credentials.
Davis' family had the last word. As he stood up after fielding some softball questions about his qualifications, his daughter Sadie called from the Senate balcony in her tiny two-year-old voice, "Hi, Dad."
When a nominee is destined for confirmation, the Senate typically votes the same day as the hearing, but not this time. Although Adams called Davis "very good," he said he would delay the roll call until probably next week.
The reason came right out of Legislative Hall. The House Democrats do not want to lose Davis yet. June is the General Assembly's busiest month, and they want some more work out of him before he leaves the legislative branch for the judicial one.
When Richard H. Bayard stepped down last month as the Democratic state chair, it brought a hiatus to what has been a given in Delaware politics -- du Pont family members in high-ranking posts.
Convention thinking tends to link the du Ponts to the Republican Party, but the family has been influential in the Democratic Party, too. The family's corporate rise, beginning in the early years of the last century, was mirrored by a political rise in both parties.
The du Pont involvement on the Republican side was more conspicuous with famous family members like T. Coleman du Pont, a U.S. senator in the 1920s and a party power who also built U.S. 13 in Delaware, and Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont, a governor and congressman in the 1970s and 1980s. These days Pete du Pont helps out the party with an annual fund-raising dinner, where the high-end tickets go for $10,000.
Most recently the top family representative within the Republicans was W. Laird Stabler Jr., a former attorney general and U.S. attorney who married a du Pont. Stabler left the party without a family tie in its leadership structure when he retired as the national committeeman for Delaware last year.
There was some thought that Stabler would be succeeded by state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, another family member, but it did not happen, and the du Ponts' Republican streak broke.
On the Democratic side, one of the most powerful leaders in party history was William S. Potter, a lawyer who married into the du Pont family. From the 1940s until the 1970s, Potter was the Democratic state chair or national committeeman. His name lives on in the prestigious law firm of Potter Anderson & Corroon.
Rick Bayard came to politics naturally -- from both sides of his family. The Bayards, almost all Democrats, have been involved since the Continental Congress. His grandfather Thomas F. Bayard Jr., a U.S. senator in the 1920s, was the one who married a du Pont, and his father Alexis I. du Pont "Lex" Bayard was elected lieutenant governor in 1948 and served as the state party chair in the 1960s.
Rick Bayard spent 16 years as the Democratic national committeeman and state chair. He took the du Pont connection with him when he went.
They will be back.