#27: Rep. Rebecca Walker (D-9th RD)
The District: The 9th District was formerly located in Brandywine Hundred, but was moved to the lower portion of New Castle County following the 2000 census. While still entirely located in New Castle County, the district is also now entirely south of the C & D Canal, and includes Odessa, Townsend, Port Penn, and a significant portion of Middletown. Here’s the map (PDF). The Delaware River serves as the eastern boundary of the district. The current registration figures are 6359 D’s; 4901 R; and 3803 I. The district has previously had more of a rural conservative bent, but with the burgeoning population growth in Middletown, this has abated somewhat. The district trends more D every year.
Rebecca Walker has, on paper, the kind of background I look for in a legislator–demonstrated accomplishment in arenas other than politics. She’s both a nurse and an attorney, and has practiced in each field. Here’s an excerpt from her bio:
Rep. Walker earned an Associate of Science in Nursing from Delaware Technical & Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wilmington College, a Master of Science in Nursing from Wesley College and a Juris Doctorate from Widener University School of Law. Rep. Walker is a nurse educator at Wesley College, where she lectures on clinical practice, health policy and nursing legal issues, and at Immaculata University, where she lectures on nursing law and policy. She is an experienced attorney who focused on healthcare litigation when practicing. She maintains a nursing practice in the Christiana Hospital Emergency Department, where she cares for trauma patients, works on the transport team, and cares for victims of abuse.
As a legislator, she can be as effective as she wants to be. The question, at least for me, is how much does she want to be an effective legislator? I ask this because she was a disappointing candidate in 2008, announced that she would not challenge incumbent Dick Cathcart in 2010, only to jump back in after Cathcart announced his ‘retirement’ following his financial shenanigans at Delaware State, and, even then, winning a less than impressive victory against her R opponent. Walker first ran against Cathcart in 2006, losing the race for state rep by a count of 4416 to 3843, a very impressive showing for a first-time candidate against one of the R House leaders. The D’s geared up to win the House in 2008, and Walker was viewed as one of the most likely candidates to flip a seat. She was also well-positioned, having done well in 2006 and riding a strong statewide D tide with Joe Biden on the national ticket. However, two weeks or so out from the election, the Party dropped her from their first tier of challengers, as they were disappointed with the campaign she was running. Walker lost to Cathcart in the rematch, 7436-6375, and drew a slightly-lower percentage of the vote.
After Walker told her committee that she would not again challenge Cathcart in 2010, Cathcart guaranteed that that wouldn’t be the case by announcing his (somewhat forced) retirement. Here’s why. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that Cathcart was totally aware of what Wagner was covering up when he announced his ‘retirement’. Also check this out to see just how disgraceful Cathcart’s conduct was, and why Tom Wagner shouldn’t be the auditor of anything.
OK, so now Cathcart is out (he ends up as City Manager of Delaware City with a recommendation from…Tom Wagner). And Walker suddenly reconsiders her decision not to run (major tip of the sombrero to Liberal Geek). Walker defeats the (initially) endorsed candidate in the primary, and narrowly defeats yet another ex-state cop, John Marino in the 2010 general election, 5583-5301.
In 2012, surprisesurprise, following redistricting, John Marino is no longer drawn into Walker’s district. She runs unopposed.
During the 2008 and 2010 races, Walker underperformed as a candidate. She has not exactly set the House afire in her first two terms. Her largely progressive voting record is why she’s ranked this highly. Support of civil unions, gay marriage, and background checks for gun purchases are pluses, her no vote against the mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms is not.
In looking at bill sponsorship, I try to look at a legislator’s priorities. Legislators ofttimes sponsor bills due to their committee responsibilities. Which is why Walker sponsored most of the corporate bar package through the Judiciary Committee this year.
I’ve found two bills from this session that seem to speak more to her own priorities. One I find encouraging. HB 131 “establishes that gestational carrier arrangements are legal contracts. It establishes a set of consistent standards and procedural safeguards applicable to all agreements for the protection of all parties involved in a gestational carrier arrangement. It recognizes the need for intended parents to obtain legal recognition of their rights before birth of any resulting child especially in cases where medical decisions need to be made immediately after delivery.” Walker was joined in sponsorship on this bill by several of Delaware’s best legislators. The bill was signed into law in July of this year.
The other bill concerns me as it appears to have been submitted by lobbyists for the benefits of a small few. HB 156 , um, allow me to quote: “…continues the process of updating the Liquor Control Act to make it more modern and consumer-friendly. Section 1 and 2 allow package stores to open at 8:00 a.m., instead of 9:00 a.m. on days other than Sundays. Section 3 allows package stores to open at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays instead of noon. All of these changes reflect consumer demand for more convenient shopping hours.” Ever the skeptic, I’d love to see the empirical evidence for this ‘consumer demand’. If convenience truly is/was the issue, then why not sell alcohol at grocery stores? This bill is designed for the people behind Total Wines. They’ve never been shy about throwing money around to suit their own purposes, and they don’t generally coincide with what the public wants. Or, for that matter, what their competitors want. I’d expect someone like John Viola to sponsor a bill like this, not Rebecca Walker.
Nevertheless, she earns this spot largely with her voting record, which is a touch more progressive than her district. Whether she becomes a prominent contributor in the public policy arena depends largely on whether she’s interested in playing that role, or whether she just wanted to cross the accomplishment of winning elective office off her list.
#35. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-SD 6)
The District: This newly-created district featured one of, if not the most, expensive contests in the history of state legislative races. With primaries on both sides, and a general election fiercely contested by both parties, mom and pop operations were out. The former 6th was centered in portions of Hockessin and suburban Newark, and was represented by Sen. Liane Sorenson. The new 6th ventures as far west as Milton, but is primarily centered along the Sussex coastal communities of Lewes, Rehoboth, Dewey Beach all the way down to South Bethany. The registration reflects just how swing a district this is. 14224 D; 12837 R; and 8495 I’s. Despite the numbers, I would tend to rank this as a swing-R district, but with both Chamber of Commerce and Tea Party types doing battle with each other. Before redistricting, many of them voted for George Bunting. After redistricting, Ernie Lopez. All things being relative, I’d consider both of them moderates. Although Sen. Bunting was one of the finest human beings I ever met in Dover, and Lopez would do well to try to follow in his footsteps.
Ernie Lopez first ran for office in New Castle County. I voted for him. Why? Because he was clearly the better candidate when he ran against the ghastly Paul Clark for County Council President in 2004. Clark had upset Penrose Hollins, who ran a terrible campaign, to earn the D nod in the primary. Lopez got 41.4% against Clark, which pretty much reflected the registration edge. (To demonstrate the no-hope status of the R’s, Clark ran unopposed in the general election in 2008. Paul Clark. Unopposed.).
By now, the history of the 2012 6th senatorial race is well-known. Lopez dispatched wingnut Glen Urquhart in the R primary, 2163 to 1779, and the well-funded Andy Staton rode Pete Schwartzkopf’s support to an easy win in the Democratic primary, garnering over 58% of the vote against Bob Frederick and Micheal Miller (!!??). Lopez won a surprisingly-large victory against Staton in November, 13603 to 10352. This was both a testament to Lopez’ strength and Democratic infighting that caused disarray in the Staton camp.
I rank Lopez here because (a) he beat Urquhart, a victory for sanity, at the very least; (b) he’s cast a few (though not enough) encouraging votes to suggest that he’s not a lock-step R; and (c) he appears willing to do some heavy legislative lifting.
And that’s about it. He wasn’t the prime sponsor on any legislation of note, although that’s not unusual for R senators in the D-controlled chamber. He voted for mandatory criminal background checks for private gun purchases, a significant vote, IMHO. Probably the most courageous he cast this term as he did not support gay marriage . He also voted against the mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. He supported the rights of manufactured home residents, breaking from neanderthals Bonini and Lavelle. However, he was a sponsor of HB 165.
I look at it this way. If a first-term legislator starts out right in the middle, then his performance during that term will be the principal determinant of his/her grade. I give Lopez bonus points for beating Urquhart and voting for the gun checks. 35 seems about right to me, especially when I look at some of the people behind him. Slightly below average right now, he could move either way.