Posted: March 20, 2003




Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Senate president pro tem from Bridgeville, has been a state senator longer than anyone else in Delaware history. Robert F. Gilligan, the House minority leader from Sherwood Park, has the record for tenure in the state House of Representatives.

Sometime over the General Assembly's winter budget break, Adams and Gilligan simultaneously broke the record for the longest service in the Delaware legislature.

Naturally both of them are Democrats. They're from the party that likes government.

"I don't know whether I should get congratulations or condolences," Adams quipped.

"I was thrilled," Gilligan said.

The two were informed of their status in a letter in late February from Roger A. Martin, a former Democratic state senator who is an unofficial historian for the legislature. "I've been keeping track of it," Martin said. "Around the end of February, they broke the record."

Adams and Gilligan both were elected in 1972. Adams has served only in the Senate, Gilligan only in the House. The legislator they passed on longevity was the late Sen. Herman M. Holloway Sr., a Wilmington Democrat whose combined service in the House and the Senate lasted for 30 years, 3 months and 18 days, according to Martin's calculations.

Holloway, a legendary advocate for civil rights, was elected to the House in a special election to fill a vacancy on Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, which was held as scheduled even though President John F. Kennedy was assassinated the day before. Holloway was elected to the Senate in 1964 and served there until his death on March 14, 1994, Martin said.

Martin said he had a personal interest in watching for the record to be broken. Like Adams and Gilligan, he was a member of the legislative Class of 1972 when he was elected to the state Senate. Martin retired in 1994.

The House honored Gilligan with a resolution, handshakes, hugs and the usual hazing.

State Rep. Bruce C. Reynolds, a New Castle area Republican, joked that Gilligan had been in the House so long, "the first vote he took was recorded by abacus."

Gilligan got in the last word. "I'd like to write my memoirs," he said, "but I'm afraid some people would go to jail."

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Sure, there can be friction between the governor and the legislature -- as there is right now with Gov. Ruth Ann Minner making noises about a veto for the smoking bill -- but a lecture by Delaware historian Carol E. Hoffecker helped to put it in perspective.

Hoffecker, a history professor at the University of Delaware, spoke Wednesday at a state Republican Party breakfast at the University & Whist Club in Wilmington.

Hoffecker is writing a book about the state legislature, and it is expected to be available next year in time for the 300th anniversary of the first assembly in 1704. That was the first occasion that Delaware legislators met by themselves after separation of the "lower three counties" from Pennsylvania.

In her talk on the colonial era of the assembly, Hoffecker told the tale of a governor who took such exception to the speaker that the presiding legislative officer had to flee from a force of the governor's men who were sent after him.

The speaker took refuge in the jail. The governor's men got axes so they could chop through the door, only to have a force loyal to the speaker arrive to stop them.

"There was a great big brawl right there," Hoffecker said, adding there was no doubt that the commotion happened. "It's written about right in the minutes."

So much for history as an example. As far as anybody knows, the worst Minner has done to legislators is to play "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" using photographs of lawmakers as the tail.