Delaware General Assembly Pre-Session Show: Tuesday, January 8, 2012

Filed in National by on January 8, 2013

2013 has all the makings of the most momentous year in recent legislative memory.

The House and Senate have both undergone major institutional and leadership changes.

More progressives now serve in Dover than before.

A pro-business governor with aspirations for higher office must decide both what’s best for the state and what’s best for his political future.

A host of important issues await, including, of course, Delaware’s economic condition.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY FOR NEWBIES

The Delaware State Senate has 21 members,  currently 13 D’s and 8 R’s. The President Pro-Tempore leads the Senate, although the Lieutenant Governor often, but not always, presides over the senate sessions as a non-voting member. Here is a list of the Senate members.

The House of Representatives has 41 members, currently 27 D’s, 14 R’s. The Speaker of the House presides over the body. You can find the House membership here.

The General Assembly is in session from the second Tuesday in January through June 30 each year. Three days a week–Tuesday through Thursday. The Senate often returns for a special session in the fall to consider nominations.

The General Assembly breaks for six weeks at the end of January for Joint Finance Committee (budget) hearings and meetings. There is another 2-week break around Easter, and an additional week’s break around Memorial Day.  The Memorial Day break often enables the ‘money’ committees to finish work on marking up the budget.The typical General Assembly meets in session about 50 days a year.

The House always holds committee meetings on Wednesdays until the last week or two of session, and does not generally conduct any substantive business on Wednesdays. Senate committees also generally meet on Wednesdays, but the Senate can and does run an occasional agenda on committee days.

January generally follows a particular pattern. The first day this year will be ceremonial in nature, with swearing-in ceremonies. Although the Senate officially was sworn in during a November Special Session to consider nominations, there will be family and friends galore in Legislative Hall today to participate in the ceremonies. The House will elect its leadership and, although there were and are some hard feeling arising out of the Democratic Caucus votes, do not look for a challenge to Speaker-Designate Pete Schwartzkopf.  Governor Markell delivers his State of the State Address this week, and his legislative agenda will be spelled out in that speech. By the end of January, the Governor will also submit his proposed budget to the General Assembly.

While some ‘emergency’ legislation passes in January, it’s usually a slow month. I would love, however, for legislators to lay down some markers this month. In particular, I would like to see Sen. Bob Marshall get his minimum wage increase legislation through the Senate in January. He passed a two-step minimum wage increase through the Senate last session, only to see it buried in the House with the approval of the Governor. While gun control and gay marriage will be on the political front-burner, I hope that progressives push for meaningful reforms for workers this session. The most meaningful reform that could be enacted quickly is a minimum wage increase.

MY INITIAL OBSERVATIONS

President Pro-Tempore Patti Blevins earns early high marks from me. Not just for the committee assignments, which I applaud. I’ve also been impressed with her comments, which suggest to me that a lot of thought has gone into what she’s done. Plus, she has done something the Senate should have done at least two decades ago. She has named a Chief-of-Staff, and she’s chosen wisely. Val McCartan is Blevins’ long-time administrative aide. So, yes, she’s the obvious choice. But she’s an excellent choice, and I think, perfect for the job. She’s liked and respected, and she has just enough steel to lay down the law when needed. I don’t think that Sen. Blevins could have done this with all the old institutional memory (read ‘resistance to professionalism’) still around. But this is a smart move, especially considering that this body of 21 will have six new members this year.

Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf has some work to do if he is to reestablish the institutional comity that was the hallmark of the House for the past 30 years or so. That is, if Pete really wants to establish said institutional comity. Granted, the leadership battle was a bruising one. A leader can either choose to help the healing process, or to exacerbate tensions that arose from the battle. So far, the Speaker has opted for the latter. It is, however, still early.

Governor Markell fully intends to push legalization of gay marriage this session. And I admit ambivalence. I support gay marriage. I strongly support gay marriage. My ambivalence stems from this nagging concern that Markell also intends to use this issue to burn up all the progressive oxygen that could otherwise go to challenge the most wrongheaded of his pro-business/pro-1% positions. For example, let’s just see how much ‘shared sacrifice’ Markell demands of the Top 1% should our finances require sacrifice. Let’s just see whether Markell supports a minimum wage increase this year. Let’s just see if Markell demands economic justice for low-income retail and restaurant workers while their corporate masters rip off both them and the State of Delaware. Let’s just see if Markell demands real lobbying reform this year, not the phony ‘reform’ he used to help prop up Tiny Tony DeLuca last session.

Here’s my point on Markell. He has aspirations for higher office. While he legitimately supports gay marriage, he also seeks to burnish his progressive cred by pushing it. However, he has so far aligned himself with the Carper DINO economic wing of the Democratic Party (what’s good for business is good for Delaware). If he doesn’t change, I intend to call him on it. If he does, then he won’t have a stronger supporter than me.

MY HOPES

We probably have more progressives than we ever have in the Delaware General Assembly. We also have a lot of real Democrats, not primarily ‘business-first’ D’s, although there are still some of them around. I hope that these Democratic legislators pursue Democratic and progressive policies, including first and foremost, fairness for workers. Increased wages; decent working conditions; protection from businesses engaged in ‘deadbeat capitalism’ (shifting expenses from the companies onto the state), businesses like Walmart and the glop shop chain restaurants and national pizza places.

I hope to see a lot of progressive proposals this year. Gun control, empirical review of state giveaways to businesses, reining in Delmarva Power, an end to legislative double-dipping, serious consideration of single-payer, and lots more.

In other words, I would like to see the progressive voices introduce legislation that has not come from the Markell Administration, but rather reflects their own particular interests. It’s easy to simply carry the ball for the Executive branch, and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as the proposals merit that support. But the legislative branch can and should be independent of the governor. I want to see more legislative initiative this term.

I can assure legislators that I will help promote those progressive initiatives as best I can, and I know that I’m by no means alone.. We’re learning every day how to effectively harness the power of grassroots movements. Give us proposals we can coalesce around, and we’ll do everything we can to help see them through to fruition.

WATCH THIS SPACE

In the past, I’ve written a post-game wrap-up/pre-game show column for each legislative day. I don’t plan to do so this year, although I  will write a column when I deem it worthwhile. I’ll, of course, write at least one and probably at least two reports each week. I’m only cutting back because, after rereading last year’s legislative posts, there were days that the column reflected sort-of an ‘obligatory’ quality. If I’m bored, the reader will be bored. Bottom line: If there’s enough interesting (to me) material, I’ll post. If not, I’ll hold off until there is.

Let the games begin!

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  1. Andy says:

    I think Mr. Markel’s support for raises for those in the leadership positions in State Government in relation to the total lack of respect for workers that he has shown and continues to show that he is no more a progressive as Carper or others who are owned by the 1%.

  2. kavips says:

    I think Mr. Markell’s support for raises for those in the leadership positions in State Government in relation to other state workers, opens the door for more spending on all state employees. If the top get raises, there can be no excuse for the bottom not to either… I think this is a good sign. Higher salaries for all.

  3. Joanne Christian says:

    EL Som mi probecito :) –OOOh, I so appreciated your legislative updates and came to really count on them when tracking issues near and dear to my corona. However, I do understand the ENORMOUS amount of time it took to compile these for the good of the people, sans compensation. It’s one job that is done so well,and it wasn’t your job. So THANK YOU for the heart and fortitude it took to keep it rolling out.

    That being said, even though the state has their bill tracking stuff on line–it’s generally not in a timely fashion, AND cumbersome to shift thru each specific bill. My particular interests are education and healthcare, but the online feature is either delayed in posting whereabouts–or posted schedule for the day ain’t the way it plays out. The El Som feature was much more timely and pointed. You saved me tons of navigating website time, and phone calls to Dover, and wasted trips. You saved Dover my phone calls, in personnel costs, but it’s a net zero cuz my EZ pass wasn’t dinged unnecessarily as much :) . So, El–I’m going to miss your highlighting–truly–and now I guess it will be back to business the old way with messages, and ” I don’t know” answers, and “oh yea–they moved that up, or they cancelled…..” etc., etc…..Damn you El Som!!! And love you more. Thanks.

  4. Andy says:

    Hs actions towards those workers speak louder than any words.Hundreds of Thousands of State Dollars paid out to the Law Firm Ballard Spahr over the last two years to fight contracts for state workers rather than sitting down at the table and truely negotiating are those actions

  5. Don’t worry, Joanne. I’ll still do that stuff, just maybe one less day a week.

    There were redundancies in my reports last year. For example, on Wednesdays, I’d write extensively about bills being considered in committees. On Thursdays, I’d write about the same bills as they made their way onto an agenda. That’s the stuff I plan to cut out.

    And DL is putting together a user-friendly bill tracker.

    I still plan to write a lot about the General Assembly. It’s just that there are also some other topics I want to explore more in-depth this year. Economic justice being at the top of the list.

    I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal.

  6. Jason330 says:

    El Som, I applaud your clear thinking on Jack Markell, and I agree that he will be wanting to accrue progressive street cred for his next move while keeping the big money on his side by appearing to be a “fiscal conservative.”

    Therefor, I don’t think there is much mystery surrounding how this will play out:

    “…let’s just see how much ’shared sacrifice’ Markell demands of the Top 1% should our finances require sacrifice.”

  7. BTW, we’ll be talking about this, Tom Carper, and more on today’s Al Mascitti Show, 10 am to 12 noon, WDEL 1150-AM.

  8. puck says:

    While he legitimately supports gay marriage, he also seeks to burnish his progressive cred by pushing it. However, he has so far aligned himself with the Carper DINO economic wing of the Democratic Party (what’s good for business is good for Delaware).

    I think Markell is well aware that being gay-friendly is part of the climate that attracts innovative and/or high-tech workers and companies. He may well believe in gay rights but it is also a business decision.

    To some extent the DINO/pro-corporate position is what Delaware is all about (what else do we have)? so as a Delaware progressive I am willing to give a pass for certain things (but not everything). The challenge is to give business what they need without giving away the store. Markell has to walk a tightrope.

    The key is to not let business get away with anti-consumer, anti-worker policies just because they are on the Chamber of Commerce wish list. For example, business lobbies against health care, but nothing could be more pro-business than to have a covered workforce. Or minimum wage – local businesses will benefit far more from workers having purchasing power, than from saving a bit on wages.

  9. Jason330 says:

    How about anti-growth? The worst thing about Dem-flavored “fiscal conservatism” is that it takes the worst, most thoroughly debunked Republican nonsense regarding revenues (tax cuts work, the government has a spending problem) as a gospel truth.

  10. cassandra_m says:

    I think that the worst thing about Dem-flavored “fiscal-conservatism” is that it abandons the argument of responsible government. And responsible government includes being clear that *responsibility* means paying for the government you are asking for. There is little consensus on cutting back any of what the state does for its citizens, yet we have a government in a defensive crouch in terms of adequately funding its operations. Unless you are talking about raises for appointed staff, transfers of funds to businesses or putting sand on beaches.

  11. cassandra_m says:

    The other thing I’ve been wondering is what the sidelining of John Kowalko means to the progressives that are now in office. I’m pretty stunned that he’s been sidelined on the Sunset Committee and wonder if that is a warning to the rest that unapproved activism has a price.

    And while I support gay marriage, the quickest way to improve the environment that attracts innovative and high-tech workers is to create a world-class education system. People will pay to live where they can educate their kids. And I just don’t see much in terms of serious improvements to the system — but there is alot of work to be invested in the various fads of the day.

  12. Norinda says:

    The Privatization of the Port of Wilmington to former Enron Executives who have been sued for millions in EPA and workplace safety violations will be the best show of his PRO Corporate Alliances. The Chairman of the Diamond State Port Board is a REPUBLICAN, Alan Levin. Occupy Wall Street Help!

  13. Dave says:

    Fiscal conservatism is simply being able to live within your means. We all try to do that at home. We save up for the things we want. We use 527s for our kids education. We avoid maxing out our credit cards. If we splurge on something, we try to make up for it by cutting back elsewhere. Fiscal conservatism is not a sin. What we have to do is decide how much we can afford and prioritize so that we can buy the things we want.

    Bottom line, we need to live within our means. We can debate what the priorities should be but we need to apply the same principles that we use at home, unless someone suggests that having budgets in our home is a terrible idea.

    Fiscal conservatism means understanding what government we are askiing for and be willing to pay for it.

  14. Jason330 says:

    That’s some bullshit. As currently practiced “fiscal conservatism” means holding the wealthy harmless and cutting programs that support the least among us.

    You kinda took a detour into reality with the last sentence, but most of the comment is pure hooey.

  15. Jason330 says:

    The euro zone jobless rate rose to a new high of 11.8 percent in November from 11.7 percent in October…

    Eurostat said Spain, suffering from the collapse of a property bubble and struggling to cope with tough austerity measures, had the highest unemployment rate, at 26.6 percent.

    Fiscal Conservatism huzzah! Live within your means unemployed people. Take another round of tough austerity measures, give the bankers another bailout, and everything will be duckie.

    Pure bullshit.

  16. Dave says:

    “As currently practiced” does not mean that’s what fiscal conservatism is. It would be nice if the English language were not so bastardized by labeling and characterization. If you don’t like the term because of how it is practiced perhaps you can come up with another term that conveys the intent without raising the ire of everyone who would turn language into epithets.

    How about instead of fiscal conservatism, we just call what I was talking about “living within your means?”

  17. Jason330 says:

    Call it whatever you want, but I miss the days when “conservative” meant sober and level headed.

    Now it means “crazy fucking dipshit.” And I’m just paraphrasing, but lets face it – that’s what it means.

    As Duncan Black points out, old school conservatives used to like a bargain.

    …even if you don’t believe that government stimulus is stimulus, we should still take the opportunity to build/fix lots of public infrastructure right now. Unless you think all of our roads/bridges are in perfect repair, I guess. It’s cheaper to do so now. Borrowing costs are low, and contractors are willing to work a bit more cheaply than they would in good times.

    But no. all the “fiscal conservatives” need to prove that they are bad asses by making things worse so that they are more expensive to fix in the future.

  18. Dave says:

    “Call it whatever you want, but I miss the days when “conservative” meant sober and level headed.”

    Me too! But I also resent that we can longer use the English language to communicate because it seems every phrase is either a curse, a sin, or a trigger phrase that labels someone. Hell, I can’t even say I’m socially liberal and fiscal conservative anymore! Instead I have to use sentences like “Keep government out of the bedroom and our bodies” and “I try to live within my means.”

    And just because you brought it up, I also think it is a good idea to spend on infrastructure because it does create jobs and provide a vital benefit. In short it’s a good investment right now. Deferred maintenance is a future liability. We have to pay for it eventually. You can put off resurfacing the road for a bit but at some point you will be forced to replace the road rather than resurfacing it.

  19. Dana Garrett says:

    I don’t see the connection between Markell supporting gay marriage to placate progressives so that he can sneak by a pro–business agenda. Markell has always had that as an agenda, stemming from his DLC days. Even if homosexual marriage wasn’t on the front burner this year, Markell would still push a pro–business agenda.

  20. Dana: My comments are aimed more at progressive legislators and progressives than Markell.

    If gay marriage becomes the principal focus of progressives, and if it becomes so to the extent that other issues take a back seat, I think that’s a major negative for the progressive cause in Delaware.

    And, yes, I think Markell is savvy enough to hope that that’s exactly what happens. That’s why it’s his initiative even though many in the gay community had not initially prioritized it for this session.

    That’s why I coined the term ‘progressive oxygen’ if, indeed, I coined it. We have enough progressives in the General Assembly now so that they can’t be marginalized by the self-appointed adults who have indeed marginalized progressives since I started working there. Gay marriage, sure. But not if it comes at the expense of other important initiatives.

  21. heragain says:

    Well, El Som, I’d bet with you that gay marriage is the shiny object.

    It’s just, well, more SEXY than improving schools or reducing access to guns. And the fundraising potential is epic.

  22. kavips says:

    It would be wise for Markell to learn from Obama and realize that if he wishes to be “liked” by Democrats in other states in four years, he will need to deliver here to the middle class. That means raise economic activity among the middle class and one way to do that is to raise state employee wages…. Learn from the president. Obamacare sort of created 2010 (the tea party Congress)… Hindsight, had we instead, used the majority in Congress to first alleviate economic hardship, a majority of Democrats still in place in the House in 2010,…. could have made this past election even more of a landslide… Realistically we would have the House now too.

    Point is: when people are hurting, take care of that first…

  23. @Norinda – the Port of Wilmington deal is going to be a topic at leg hall this month per Bobby Marshall.

    He will lead legislation to force Alan Levin’s Diamond State Port Corporation to cede formal ratification from the General Assembly. Levin currently seems to think he doesn’t really need a legislative vote to go forward in cementing the Kinder Morgan contract. The contract hasn’t been made public yet – DSPC gave a 90 day window starting in early December to make it public but also says the final vote will be taken by the DSPC board sometime in March.

  24. PainesMe says:

    Surprised that the movement to repeal the death penalty didn’t make this article as well. We’re closer to Texas than Massachusetts on that issue, and it seems like the ACLU and partners are looking to make a real run at it this year.

  25. SussexAnon says:

    Markell is more progressive than you give him credit for. Curbside recycling, regulating energy companies to require purchase of renewable energy sources, killing fracking in the Delaware River Basin, the list goes on. Is he a business guy? Yep. Does the think “business guys” can solve education, or other state institution? Probably. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good for Delaware on progressive issues.

    He did hire Colin O’Mara at DNREC. A hippie love child environmentalist from California is hardly a DINO hiring choice. Or a Delaware Way pick for that matter.

  26. Andy says:

    Markell= Progressive NOT
    Markell = Carper yes

  27. When it comes to suckitude, Carper is King.

    Markell IS progressive on the social issues, and, as SussexAnon points out, he’s been good on the environment.

    After 36 years in public office, Carper has yet to take a bold stand in either of those areas.

    It’s just Jack’s economic conservatism that bugs me.

    But Carper he’s not.

  28. PainesMe says:

    Som -

    Let’s not forget about Carper’s heroic stand for the USPS now, that bastion of liberalism.

  29. Markell’s record on environment is not as cheery as ElSom suggests. To say that O’Mara’s Cali roots automatically make him a tree-hugger is ridiculous. He is the one who had connections to Bloom wherein the Assembly was convinced to bring the NOT renewable natural gas energy source into the renewable state portfolio – all in the name of jobs.

    There is much more on bad enviro stuff with Markell’s DNREC but it will have to wait for another day.

  30. anon says:

    Secretary O’Mara is from NY State, not California. Markell recruited him from California where he was working in San Jose economic development.

    Anyone with environmental leanings living in Sussex is going to say that Markell has been “good on the environment” because that festering cancer hole, the Indian River Power Plant, is getting cleaned up (except for the huge, toxic mountians of ash sitting right on the banks of the river, we get to keep those). Markell deserves high marks for actually following through on the site’s clean up instead of kicking the can down the road like governors did since the 1960′s.

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