Posted: July 1, 2003
DEADS-VILLE IN DOVER
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
As the hour got later and the mood sillier on
the last night of the 2003 legislative session, three
larger-than-life cutouts materialized in the state House of
Representatives -- cardboard dolls of George Bush, Elvis and
As stiff as they were, they were about as
animated as it got as Monday turned into Tuesday and the Delaware
General Assembly called it a year.
Legislative Hall veterans were saying this
final night was the dullest ever, a bust when it came to the power
plays, bottlenecks of bills, flaring egos and tempers, daunting
workloads, hard feelings and other assorted atmospherics that
usually churn the rush to recess.
Some years the July 4th fireworks seem like a
comedown from the June 30th political pyrotechnics, but not this
time. Perhaps the lawmakers instinctively were afraid to. In
precarious economic times for almost every state, when the finances
could have cratered, the legislators quietly got a budget bill and
tax package out of the way last week to tamp down the chances of
riling the voters.
"No money, no monkey business, no
machinations," said Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III. "No
thrills, no chills, but safe arrival."
It turned Dover into a mutual admiration
society. "It's been a good year," Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a first-term
Democrat, said in a post-midnight press conference. "Democrats and
Republicans, Senate and House, they have done an outstanding job."
Few bills of significance were on the
although the lawmakers did approve a series of revenue-raising
measures for Wilmington and medical-malpractice legislation that
represented a compromise between doctors and lawyers. Otherwise,
there was little going on.
"Everything's done. We're literally killing
time," said Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, the House's Democratic minority
Also killed was the momentum for a gay
equal-rights bill, called by its number as House Bill 99. The House
approved it last week in dramatic fashion, with two representatives
sick but staying to supply the final two votes for passage and send
it to the Senate. Its backers had visions of getting it through that
chamber, too, but it was not to be.
In a slick, subterranean gambit, the
legislation was left to languish in a pile of bills never even filed
-- the senatorial version of boxing's "long count." In addition, the
senators stayed on the floor, never breaking for the party caucuses
that the backers needed to push for getting it introduced and
Despite being stalled, House Bill 99 still is
alive until the end of the two-year legislative term next year.
Minner, who has called for its adoption, said she will talk to the
Senate leadership about considering it perhaps as soon as a special
session in August or early September, when senators return to Dover
to vote on judicial nominations.
With the legislative agenda almost an
afterthought, the focus of June 30 became the social agenda. John F.
Brady, a Republican House attorney who is also the Sussex County
recorder of deeds, sprang for a picnic outside one side of
Legislative Hall. Agriculture Secretary Michael T. Scuse and
Personnel Director Lisa Blunt-Bradley hosted a barbeque from their
own pockets on the other side. Lobbyist Robert L. Byrd brought a
pickup-truck full of beer and wine.
Even the Senate, where partisanship often runs
high, dined together, majority Democrats and minority Republicans
alike at the Lobby House on Loockerman Street. The Senate is still
the Senate, however, and one member noted wittily there were an "A"
table, a "B" table and a "C" table -- for Democrats who are "in,"
Democrats who are "out" and Republicans.
The House won bragging rights for the night by
being the first chamber to quit, about 12 minutes after midnight,
beating the Senate by nearly 20 minutes. No one could remember the
House ever leaving earlier than the Senate, and a great cheer went
up from the representatives when it did.
By the time the House left, it had gotten slap
happy. Republican Rep. David H. Ennis, called on to offer a final
prayer, prayed that the House indeed would quit first. Republican
Rep. Robert J. Valihura Jr., eying the Bush-Elvis-Bogart cutouts,
merrily protested Bogie's presence to the leadership with a
reference to one of the session's most controversial matters.
"One of those stooges is smoking. Would you
ask him to refrain, please?" Valihura quipped.
A final mark of how smoothly the last night
went was the "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" poster in the governor's
office. The individual tails all bear a face of a state official,
and those who are out of gubernatorial favor wind up affixed to the
On this night the donkey had no tail at all,
so there was no tale to tell.
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