Posted: March 28, 2003




Politicians never seem to miss an opportunity to celebrate themselves, what with all the dinners, plaques and assorted titles they constantly give to one another.

Even so, the politicians aren't in the league of the state judiciary. That crowd could teach promotion to Publishers Clearinghouse.

The politicians are having a go at it, however. Although the 300th anniversary of the Delaware General Assembly is still a year away in 2004, the congratulatory festivities are beginning already.

House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith, a Brandywine Hundred Republican, has arranged for a history of the legislature to be written by Carol E. Hoffecker, a University of Delaware professor who is one of the state's premier historians. Smith is so proud of it, you would think he was doing the work.

Another early celebration was a program honoring the women who have served in the state legislature -- all 48 of them. It drew about 60 people Wednesday evening to the Public Archives in Dover as part of Women's History Month, in cooperation with the Secretary of State's Office, the Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs and the Delaware Commission for Women.

The observance coincided with the 80th anniversary of Delaware's ratification in March 1923 of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote and therefore the opportunity to serve in the legislature.

Never mind that the First State's ratification was a little tardy. The amendment had been the law of the land since 1920.

Being eligible for the legislature is one thing, and getting elected is another. It says something that Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was personally acquainted with all but four of the women who served in the General Assembly, and state Sen. Nancy W. Cook knew all but five. The two Democrats have spent about 40 years in politics and got elected to the legislature themselves in 1974.

Of the current 62 legislators, 18 are women -- seven in the Senate, 11 in the House of Representatives, eight of them Democrats and 10 of them Republicans. It is a record number. Cook has been there longer than any other woman in state history, and three of the legislators, all Democrats, were elected in 2002 -- Sen. Karen E. Peterson, Rep. Melanie L. George and Rep. Bethany A. Hall-Long.

The Delaware legislature dates itself from 1704 because that is the year it ceased having anything to do with a joint assembly with Pennsylvania. As colonies under the auspices of William Penn, Delaware and Pennsylvania had met together since 1682, with Delaware regarded as the three "Lower Counties."

The two colonies did not like each other. According to an account in Delaware: A Guide to the First State, Pennsylvania considered Delaware to be a "Frenchified, Scotchified, Dutchified place." While Pennsylvania was inhabited largely by Penn's fellow Quakers, the Delawareans did not think of them as friends.

Delaware separated, but some concepts die hard. As any modern Delawarean knows, there are still lower counties here. It is something not lost on Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, who is from Sussex County.

As the host for the program on women in the legislature, Windsor was charged with giving a brief history of the Delaware assembly. She noted that the colonial-era lower counties found themselves constantly being slighted.

"Sounds familiar," Windsor said.

# # #


When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the retired U.S. senator from New York, died on Wednesday at 76 years old, there was more than the customary acknowledgement from U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and former U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., the two Delawareans who served with him.

They loved the guy.

Biden, of course, is a Democrat like Moynihan, and Roth is a Republican, but their political differences are entirely in keeping with the sort of man that Moynihan was. In his Senate office he had two framed magazine covers, a 1979 issue of The Nation calling him a "neo-conservative" and a 1981 edition of The New Republic calling him a "neo-liberal," according to Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America 2000.

Moynihan, a Harvard academic before he went to the Senate, worked for four presidents in a row, Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.

"At a roast in Washington, it was once said, 'He's a man for all presidents,'" Roth recalled.

Moynihan was elected to the Senate in 1976 and stayed until 2000, when he gave way to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democrat who announced his death Wednesday to the chamber. Roth and Biden were there when Moynihan arrived -- with Roth elected in 1970 and Biden in 1972. Roth lost his seat the year Moynihan retired.

Roth and Biden both regarded their colleague as one of the smartest and most visionary people they ever knew and valued his friendship all the more for it.

"I've been doing a lot of reading about the Founding Fathers, and Pat would have fit right in. He had such an intellect," Roth said.

"He was a great leader, a great senator, a good friend and a great thinker whose intellectual intensity changed American life," Biden said.

When Biden was booted out of the 1988 presidential race and next survived life-threatening brain aneurysms, it was Moynihan's words he turned to for comfort. In a speech on his return to the Senate on Sept. 7, 1988, Biden recited them:

"To fail to understand that life is going to knock you down is to fail to understand the Irishness of life."