We begin the ranking of the 62 legislators smack dab in the middle. As a listaholic, the thought of doing a double countdown, both up to the top and down to the dregs, is close to orgasmic. And, um, the foreplay is just starting.
I laid out my criteria here. I’ll let the articles speak for themselves. In addition to expressing opinions on the rankings, please let me know how you’d like to see this countdown improved. I’m sure there will be subtle format changes as this moves forward.
To me, here’s the lede of today’s rankings: Being in the middle of the rankings does not mean ‘meeting expectations’. As it turns out, all three of the legislators profiled here should be better and should be ranked higher, making their performances so far disappointing, at least to me.
30: REP. DEBRA HEFFERNAN (D-RD 6)
The District: 8119 D, 5462 R, 4565 I. Extends from the Delaware River north of Wilmington along the river from Edgemoor to the Archmere area of Claymont, extends north and west through Green Acres, S. Graylyn Crest, Marsh Road through Weldin and Shipley Roads, to Murphy Road. The westernmost communities are Surrey Park and Deerhurst. A quintessential Brandywine Hundred/Bellefonte district. The R’s are socially moderate, and there are a lot of scientists, people who actually think. In other words, RINOs.
Heffernan’s profile would appear to mirror the district well. She has a Master’s from Duke in environmental toxicology, and has been a professional toxicologist for twenty years. She also served as the President of the Brandywine School Board. I fully expected her to establish herself as a strong progressive voice in both education and the environment. She really hasn’t. Her votes have generally been good, although she did vote for HB 165, which many view as a giveaway to charter schools. Perhaps the best bill she’s sponsored is HB 95, which “provides the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control with the authority to impose environmental liens on real property in an effort to recover taxpayers’ money expended by the State in order to investigate and clean up contaminated properties in circumstances where the property owners who caused the contamination have failed to do so.” This was actually a DNREC bill, and Rep. Heffernan ran it as the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. She has also sponsored a couple of bills preventing discrimination against ‘first responders’, which makes sense, considering the political power of both the Brandywine Hundred and Claymont Volunteer Fire companies. As yet, not a single education bill halfway through her second term. Rep. Kim Williams, for example, another legislator with extensive school board experience, has done far more in one year to promote education from a progressive perspective than Heffernan has done in three.
Heffernan is generally a reliable progressive vote, and I think progressives should be OK with that. I just expected her to have taken a more active approach to reform, and am disappointed that she appears content to let others do the heavy lifting. Here’s hoping she takes a bit more initiative going forward. Three years in, she’s still middle of the pack.
31. REP. DENNIS E. WILLIAMS (D-RD 10)
The District: Suburban Brandywine Hundred district, still one of the most oddly-shaped in Delaware, ranging east to west along the tiny swath of Delaware between Naamans Road and the northernmost state boundary, with the handle portion heading down from Shipley to Silverside Roads. May not deserve the ‘sickle’ connotation any more, but it’s not far off. You can click on ‘District Map’ here to see the district. Still more or less a swing district, but becoming more D by the day: 7362 D; 5295 R; 3927 I. The only reason that it’s somewhat of a swing district is because the easternmost portion of the district takes in a lot of apartments with more transient residents, leading to high-D registration, low turnout voters. Much less swing in presidential years.
Halfway through his third term, Dennis Williams remains a cipher, at least to me. He has a generally progressive voting record. I like some of his legislative initiatives, especially the presidential popular vote legislation, and also proposed casino expansion. However, my quick search of the last two General Assembly sections indicate that none of his proposed legislation has been enacted into law. Not just the ‘biggies’, but anything. That suggests that he doesn’t have the influence to pass much of anything. That would be OK, and he’d be ranked perhaps a few spots higher, but for the following:
(a) His decisive vote for leadership, effectively electing Pete Schwartzkopf as Speaker, guaranteed that the minimum wage bill would be buried in committee. Williams says he supports the bill, which passed the Senate and earned the public endorsement (as opposed to the private support) of the Governor. But actions have consequences, and Williams’ flip (he claims he never promised his vote, other legislators disagree) has derailed minimum wage, at least for now.
(b) It’s one thing to vote for HB 165, the aforementioned charter schools bill. It’s another thing to have no idea what the bill did while voting for it. Our beloved Pandora cornered Rep. Williams at a recent Drinking Liberally, and asked him if he knew what the bill he voted for did. Multiple dissemblings (‘We have lots of bills go through, I don’t read every single one’) later, he admitted he had no clue what the bill did. There are bills, and there are bills. This was an important bill, and Williams’ futile attempt to BS his way through was seen by those present for what it was: BS. Which raises the question: What else is he BS’ing about? That conversation alone probably cost him a couple of spots on this list.
Look, I recognize that Williams doesn’t have the personality that makes friends and influences people in Dover or elsewhere. It’s just his way, and it’s not like he’s the only one. However, he is still a reliable progressive vote, and it’s not entirely clear that his would-be primary challenger, Sean Matthews, would be an improvement. So far, he seems to basically take positions 180 degrees opposite to Williams for…no apparent reason whatsoever. It won’t be enough to convince people that you’re the anti-Williams. In my case, I need to know that you’re a true progressive. For his faults, Williams is. He should be more effective, but he’s far from useless.
32. NICOLE POORE (D-SD 12)
The District: One of the most sprawling districts in New Castle County. Ranges from Old New Castle in the northeast portion of the district south and/or west to Delaware City, towards Bear and Glasgow, and even south of the canal to the southernmost and central portion of NCC. It’s one of the most overwhelmingly Democratic districts in the state, 18722 D; 7681 R; and 7928 I. Not just a plurality, but a majority of registered voters, at 54.5%. It may be hard to believe, but this district was represented for the better part of thirty years by R’s Bob Connor and Dori Connor, husband and wife. Bob Connor died of a heart attack while in office, and Dori was elected to take his place. Both survived with strong active union support and a reluctance from the Democratic establishment to take them on. These two factors, um, were not unrelated. Redistricting greatly expanded the footprint, and a less active Dori Connor was endangered from the start. Labor unions, progressives and senate & party leadership helped a hard-working and charismatic candidate to a comfortable victory:
NICOLE POORE (D) 12875 60 . 3
DORINDA CONNOR (R) 8170 38 . 3 %
BRAD THOMAS (L) 310 1 . 4 %
One year in, Nicole hasn’t yet made her mark. If anything, she’s been a little tentative on certain votes. Voted against the death penalty bill, abstained on the bill designed to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. Other than that, though, she’s had a generally solid voting record. Supported gay marriage, supported the criminal background checks on gun purchases bill. As Senate co-chair of the Joint Sunset Committee, she has sponsored those bills. Perhaps the most (only?) notable one of the bunch is SB 104, which ‘adds the Public Advocate to the definition of “public officer” which would subject them, like many other individuals in positions of public trust, to certain financial disclosure requirements.’
Poore’s background suggests that she has the potential to be a real legislative contributor. She has been an effective special needs advocate, especially for children. While that background has not yet fully surfaced in her legislative accomplishments, there is no reason why Sen. Poore’s ranking shouldn’t rise, and perhaps rise significantly, in subsequent years. Patti Blevins was smart to name her as co-chair of the Joint Sunset Committee. It’s a great assignment to learn a lot about state government.
My only unsolicited advice to Sen. Poore would be to recognize that she can be reelected forever if she does her constituent work. There is no reason for timidity in terms of votes and legislative priorities. Especially when it comes to standing up to the religious fanatics and gun nuts who comprise a microscopically-small, if loud, portion of her electoral base.