Posted: Sept. 27, 2004
By Celia Cohen
Election, schmelection. If the Council of State Governments is going to hold a conference in a far-flung place like Anchorage, Alaska, the campaign calendar is not going to keep away the Legislative Hall crowd.
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the first-term Democrat who is up for re-election, headed out for the session, a five-day affair that began Saturday and lasts until Wednesday. So did 11 legislators, all but two of them Republicans, including a couple with serious challenges for keeping their seats.
Minner went openly. Her staff issued a press release, noting she was being installed as the new president of the Council of State Governments, or CSG as it is known, a national nonprofit organization that provides research and resources to state legislative, executive and judicial officers, not to mention an opportunity for travel.
The legislators slipped away more quietly. A pre-conference registration list showed two Democratic state senators and nine Republican state representatives expected to attend. All are from the majority party in their respective chambers, with the Democrats holding a 13-8 majority in the Senate and the Republicans with a 29-12 edge in the House of Representatives.
Of the two senators, neither Nancy W. Cook nor David B. McBride are on the ballot this year, because their four-year terms do not end until 2006.
All of the representatives are running for new two-year terms, and they are: V. George Carey, Joseph G. DiPinto, J. Benjamin Ewing, Tina Fallon, Deborah D. Hudson, Joseph E. Miro, Roger P. Roy, Terry R. Spence and Donna D. Stone. Three of them -- Miro, Roy and Spence, who is the House speaker -- are running unopposed.
Minner's travel expenses were paid by CSG. The cost for a legislator traveling at state expense appeared to be about $2,000 for registration, room and airfare.
The wisdom of traveling at the peak of the election season is an open question -- certainly one that occurs to political opponents like William Swain Lee, the Republican candidate for governor.
"The governor felt that having that honor was enough to take a break from the campaign. If she was paying attention to what's happening, I don't think flying to Alaska would be more important than having a job in January," Lee said.
Noting that the CSG president serves a one-year term, Lee quipped, "Maybe former governors can serve in that capacity."
Gregory B. Patterson, the campaign manager for Minner, countered that the governor's involvement with the organization, a 30-year commitment that goes back to her days as a legislator and lieutenant governor, is beneficial because the state is scheduled to host a CSG conference in 2005.
"The governor was torn between her obligations on the campaign trail and her obligations to an organization that's going to bring nearly $2 million-worth of conference business into the state next year. In the end she is treating it much like another economic development opportunity," Patterson said.
Two traveling legislators in particular are engaged in spirited re-election campaigns, both in Sussex County. Carey, a 10-term representative from Milford, is facing Brian F. Dolan, a lawyer from Milton, in the 36th District, and Fallon, a 13-term representative from Seaford, is being challenged by Thomas J. Chapman, a teacher from Seaford, in the 39th District.
"There is very little that George Carey is going to learn in Alaska that's going to help him be a more effective legislator in Delaware. He's pretty confident of the outcome of his race if he's going off to Alaska in the middle of a campaign," Dolan said.
State Rep. Clifford G. "Biff" Lee, the Republican majority whip from Laurel, defended Carey. "I don't travel a lot, but when I go to a conference, I get a lot out of the conference by talking to legislators from other states about how they handle issues," he said.
Even so, Biff Lee had misgivings about the timing of this one. "If it were me, I would not have gone," he said.