Posted: Jan. 31, 2003
THE CAMPAIGN THAT WOULD NOT DIE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The campaign season is supposed to end on
Election Day, or perhaps Return Day at the latest. Then there is the
2002 congressional race.
While U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the winning
Republican, did what was expected of him by returning to Washington
for a state-record sixth term, a couple of Democratic candidates
involved in the contest hung around a while longer.
Micheal C. Miller, the combative candidate
whom Castle trounced for a second time, didn't make his final public
appearance until the week after the election -- in a courtroom.
Steven L. Biener, who could have been expected to vanish after he
lost a September primary to Miller, still was sending out a press
release on campaign letterhead as late as last week.
It was true to form for both.
The congressional election was not much of an
attention-grabber. It attracted far less notice than the vociferous
three-for-all for attorney general, involving Republican incumbent
M. Jane Brady, Democrat Carl Schnee and Green Vivian A. Houghton, or
the top-of-the-ticket rematch for the U.S. Senate with Democratic
incumbent Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Republican Raymond J. Clatworthy.
Castle waltzed to a win, beating Miller by
polling 73 percent of the vote, the best showing of any statewide
candidate. This was after Miller claimed the Democratic nomination
by getting 52 percent of the vote against Biener.
The issues that emerged to dominate the
election were little more than a campaign sideshow -- including
Miller's courthouse capers and Biener's aversion to the candidates'
filing fee. Just because the voting was over did not mean it would
During the campaign season, The Associated
Press reported that Miller, the owner of Tax Man Accounting Services
and Miller's Landscape in Lewes, was in and out of court in the
1990s. He was denied unemployment benefits after Delaware State
College, now Delaware State University, fired him as a security
guard for padding his resume. He was sued successfully by a landlady
for back office rent. A Court of Common Pleas jury found him guilty
in an altercation with the father of his stepdaughter.
As matters turned out, Miller also spent the
campaign season fighting a speeding ticket. It was not resolved
until Nov. 13, during the week after the Nov. 5 election, in a
Common Pleas jury trial.
According to Deputy Attorney General
Christopher M. Hutchison, Miller was stopped on March 15 by a state
trooper on Delaware 24 near Long Neck in Sussex County and ticketed
for going 70 miles an hour in a 50-mile-an-hour zone. Miller decided
to fight it.
"He was pretty adamant that he was not
guilty," Hutchison said.
The fine for traveling 20 miles above the
limit is $80, Hutchison said. The trooper offered to drop the charge
to nine miles over the limit, which carries a $29 fine, and the
Attorney General's Office offered a standard plea of five miles over
the limit, which has a $20 fine, to settle out of court. Miller
still said no.
Instead, in Common Pleas Judge Rosemary B.
Beauregard's courtroom in Georgetown, Miller represented himself
during his day in court -- and lost. A 12-member jury convicted him
on the original speeding ticket of 70 miles an hour, so he wound up
with an $80 fine, Hutchison said.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Miller said
he refused a lesser charge because he wasn't guilty, no matter what
the jury decided. "If you're not speeding, there's no need saying
something you didn't do," he said.
Although eight months elapsed between the
ticket and the trial, both the Attorney General's Office and Miller
say there wasn't an effort on either side to delay the case until
after the election. Hutchison said he didn't realize who Miller was
until the arraignment in August.
State Prosecutor Steven P. Wood said the
speeding charge took as long as it did because of a backlog in
Sussex County Common Pleas, which handles more than 20,000 cases a
"Cases that don't involve victims or
significant property loss don't receive much attention. Speeding
cases certainly fall into that," Wood said.
Miller considers the matter over. "I'm getting
ready for a busy tax season," he said.
If Miller has moved on, Biener hasn't. A
Wilmington attorney with the corporate law firm of Cozen O'Connor,
he still is worrying his filing fee four months after he lost the
Filing fees are set by the political parties
and collected by the state election commissioner on their behalf.
The fees are regarded generally as a means of discouraging frivolous
or fraudulent candidacies. Under state law, the fee cannot be
greater than 1 percent of the total salary for the term of office,
although indigents are excused from paying it. In Biener's case, the
congressional fee was set at $3,000.
Corporate lawyer, indigent or whatever, Biener
didn't think filing fees were right. He considered them an
unconstitutional barrier to ballot access and made a federal case
out of it, suing Elections Commissioner Frank B. Calio in U.S.
District Court to try to stop Calio from collecting the money.
After losing an early round in court in July,
Biener paid his fee under protest. The case was not resolved finally
until Jan. 21, when U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet in a
written order sided with Calio and threw it out.
"Requiring a fee of non-indigent candidates is
a rational means of furthering the state's interests in regulating
the size of the ballot and avoiding voter confusion leading to the
clogging of the election machinery," Sleet wrote.
Biener decided not to go quietly. He fired off
a press release. "Delaware's filing fees do indeed scare people
away. They discourage participation by minorities and those of
modest means," he wrote. "The Framers of our Constitution did not
want wealth to be a factor in determining whom citizens could choose
on Election Day."
Biener said he is considering whether or not
to appeal. Calio would rather he didn't. "I'm glad it's been
resolved, and I hope Mr. Biener can accept it, and we can move on,"
After all, it is January.
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