Honoring the 2013 MVP’s (Most Valuable to the Progressive Cause)

Filed in Delaware by on December 31, 2013

I am El Somnambulo and I’m a listaholic. This list should come with its own Festivus celebration, aka, the ‘airing of the grievances’. Come to think of it, it does. It’s called the comments section. The usual caveat. This is my list. One person’s opinion. Feel free to make your own list. And, of course, feel free to heap scorn or praise, or both, on my list.

There were several worthy contenders who just missed the list this year. Superior legislators like Melanie George Smith and Michael Barbieri deserve consideration every year. Ed Osienski is fast approaching that status. Helene Keeley and Kim Williams were on my list at one time or another during my deliberations.

2013 was a great year for social justice in Delaware. Economic justice, not so much.  However, I am encouraged that at least three strong voices for progressive principles joined the General Assembly this year, and a couple of Leg Hall vets found their voices as well. The progressive grassroots became more effective this year, and helped ensure historic victories that would not have happened without their support. Marriage equality, transgender equality, and justice for manufactured home owners,  being among them.

The most notable omission from my list, and I struggled with it, is Governor Jack Markell. His role in hastening civil rights for the LGBT community will most assuredly be his lasting positive legacy. But, his actions in slowing the passage of minimum wage; his continued pushing for corporate education solutions and favoring charter schools; his granting of a tax cut for Delaware’s wealthiest citizens; his almost-disastrous actions concerning the Port of Wilmington; and several others, led me to omit him from the list. At best, the good and the bad canceled each other out. And, no, you don’t have to take the bad with the good. Or at least you shouldn’t accept it. I don’t.

10. Sen. Bruce Ennis

While no one would describe him as a progressive, Ennis has always represented the ‘little guy’. He has long supported protections for those living in manufactured home communities, and, as prime sponsor of SS1/SB 33, he successfully shepherded the bill through the General Assembly.  Ennis does his homework, has excellent working relationships with his colleagues, and is a genuinely nice guy. No, he’s not gonna be a lion on civil rights issues like gay marriage or transgender rights, but he’s there on minimum wage, he was there on the Port of Wilmington bill. But he’s on the list this year for his work on SB 33. A job well done, finally putting an end to ‘justice delayed, justice denied’.

9. Sen. Margaret Rose Henry

One of the most impressive two-fers in recent legislative memory. I am genuinely surprised that either of these bills got through, not to mention both of them.  She sponsored SB 97, which adds gender identity ‘to the already-existing list of prohibited practices of discrimination and hate crimes’. 11 Senate votes, the bare minimum, and only 24 House votes. Yet it’s law.  And then there’s the mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms.  SB 16 also passed with the bare minimum of 11 Senate votes   and got only 22 votes in the House.   Great legislating from someone who has become more inclined to take on tough issues over the years.

8. Erik Raser-Schramm

Let’s be thankful that he uses his incalculable grassroots skills for the forces of good instead of the forces of ee-vil. Yes, he has turned his skills into a business (why didn’t I think of that?), but look what he helped produce this year. Marriage equality, transgender equality, justice for manufactured homeowners. Despite the grassroots nature of much of progressive politics, right-wing organizations like the NRA have been infinitely more successful in mobilizing the grassroots than we have. That’s why it’s great that we have someone like Erik. Now, if only we could do something about his Hillary fixation…oh, I know. Erik, remember this one?:

Hey, ya gotta take the bad with the good.

7. Rep. Paul Baumbach

A superb debut from this Newark area first-termer. I was especially impressed with his legislation that provided some legit incremental improvements for manufactured homeowners. Why? It shows attention to detail and effective legislating skill.  Plus, it moved the ball forward in a positive way. From a legislative perspective, effective legislating is where it’s at. He also voted the ‘right’ way on virtually everything, and helped shape the key debates with his incisive commentary. While he needs to take care not to alienate would-be allies, he has already helped move the House in a more progressive direction.

6. Sen. Cathy Cloutier

Sen. Cloutier and Rep. Mike Ramone emerged as strong supporters of progressive initiatives this year. Ramone also deserves a spot on this list, however his votes weren’t as valuable in that the House was solidly behind most of the progressive initiatives he supported. OTOH, Sen. Cloutier’s votes this year made the difference on several key issues. The death penalty, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms, marriage equality (along with Bethany Hall-Long), and transgender equality. She finally voted the way that she’s talked, and it had a profound positive impact on the lives of many Delawareans.

5. Sen. Bob Marshall

He pretty much singlehandedly blew the whistle and put an end to the ill-advised secret Markell-Levin/Kinder Morgan Port misadventure.  With the benefit of hindsight, can you imagine how disastrous that deal would have been, especially to those who work at the Port and depend on the Port for their livelihoods? Once Markell and Levin were flushed out on this, their motives became so suspect that the House passed legislation requiring an up-or-down vote on any Port deal before a deal could be concluded. No vote, no deal. Marshall also continued on as one of the few strong voices for economic justice in the General Assembly. He sponsored minimum wage legislation that passed the Senate.   Gov. Jack Markell, in perhaps his most disingenuous moment of the year, negotiated a compromise with Marshall that weakened the bill. Markell promised to support and sign the bill. He then got the bill buried in a House committee. It looks like it will pass in 2014. I call on legislators to restore all the provisions that Markell had removed, and then dare him to sign or veto the bill. Although people don’t necessarily think of Marshall as a progressive, he continues to vote as one. Strong supporter of gun control, civil rights for all.He’s on the list this year, though, due to his work on the Port and minimum wage.

4. Sen. Bryan Townsend

What can I say? Along with Paul Baumbach and Rep. Kim Williams (who just missed making the list), Townsend brought new progressive energy and intellectual heft to the General Assembly this year. I especially loved the two bills that he got passed in the aftermath of the charter schools debacle. SB 147 and SB 148 are admirable, the kind of incremental but important legislating that often doesn’t get the recognition that’s deserved. He also was a leading proponent on practically every progressive bill of importance, and effectively challenged some of the assumptions of HB 165.   This next sentence will either appear foolish or prescient: HB 165 will mark the end of the ascendancy of the charter school push in Delaware; Bryan Townsend and Kim Williams appear poised to give voice and effective direction on behalf of those who believe in public education. (Uh, I know that it’s basically two sentences in one. Bear with me here.) Townsend’s mere presence in place of Tony DeLuca was a huge, perhaps underappreciated, plus. Does all of this progressive legislation even make it to the floor if DeLuca was still Pro-Tem? Betcha that Port of Wilmington bill would have been buried, seeing as how DeLuca literally owed Markell his jobs. And how many bills that got 11 votes would not have gotten 11 votes had Tiny Tony still been in Dover?

3. Sen. Karen Peterson

Even though she only sponsored one of the notable progressive priorities this year (elimination of the death penalty), her DNA was all over the legislative agenda this year. Plus, her support of candidates like Bryan Townsend and Kim Williams helped swell the progressive ranks. She also formed an alliance with my #2 that clearly paved the way for timely consideration of progressive legislation in the Senate. Peterson is an effective and sharp-elbowed legislator. She has learned how to push progressive legislation through. Better than anybody, in fact. She also understands that this is a marathon, not a sprint.  Temporary setbacks are just opportunities to regroup and forge ahead.  She also has solid ties in the House. More than any progressive legislator, she has mastered the inside game, and has become  progressivism’s most effect legislative practitioner. This year’s scorecard reflects it. As does this ranking.

2. Sen. Patti Blevins

Elections have consequences. Perhaps the best electoral consequence of the year was Patti Blevins replacing the defeated Tony DeLuca as President Pro-Tem. She became, in effect, the Anti-DeLuca. Since she, unlike DeLuca, did not owe her position to Jack Markell, she helped establish the Senate as the more independent of the two legislative branches, and enabled consideration of every single piece of progressive legislation that came before it. No more burying of bills in inhospitable committees. I don’t think there’s any way that the weapons legislation or the Port legislation see the light of day under Tiny Tony. I’m not that certain about marriage equality or gender equality, either. And even though I have often criticized Blevins, I think that she has really grown as she assumed power in the Senate this year. She is still a reliable vote for most progressive legislation as well. She effectively transformed the Senate into an incubator for progressive legislation this year. Which is why she’s so high on this list.

1. Sarah McBride

Just take a look at SB 97.    Read the synopsis:

This Act adds the term “gender identity” to the already-existing list of prohibited practices of discrimination and hate crimes. As such, this Act would forbid discrimination against a person on the basis of gender identity in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations, and insurance, and it would provide for increased punishment of a person who intentionally selects the victim of a crime because of the victim’s gender identity.

Now, take in the fact that SB 97 is now the law in Delaware.

Finally, realize that this bill is law because of Sarah McBride. She was able to persuade a skeptical General Assembly that this was the right thing to do. I’m in awe of what she did. Having worked down there as long as I did, it never dawned on me that the Delaware General Assembly would pass such a bill. The adolescent sniggering of John Atkins and Trey Paradee was more in tune with the way the General Assembly used to be, but thankfully is no more (BTW, why do I think that they are among the Most Likely to Stick Their Heads Into a Restroom to Sneak a Peek?). But, I digress.

This bill wasn’t even on my radar until this article surfaced.    I remember thinking, ‘interesting, worthwhile, but good luck with that.’

The article was posted on our blog on June 4, 2013. By June 19, SB 97 was the law of our state. The reason why is Sarah McBride. She tirelessly met with legislators one-on-one, and convinced (barely) enough legislators of good will  that those with gender identities different than their own deserved basic civil rights. If you think that’s easy, just try doing it.

Of course, I salute the sponsors and supporters of this legislation. But this is perhaps the single greatest example of one unelected citizen (here’s hoping that might change some day) making a difference for the positive good by finding common ground with the Delaware General Assembly and the Governor that I can recall. Inspirational.

For me, Sarah McBride is clearly the 2013 MVP. Can’t wait to see what she does next.

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  1. Congratulations, Sarah!!!

  2. Delaware Dem says:

    My choice is Sarah McBride too, but there are two others I would include on the list that did not make the cut.

    Ezra Temko
    John Kowalko

  3. Delaware Dem says:

    Also, Lisa Goodman and Drew Fennell

  4. Austin A. says:

    Congrats to all of the New Castle pols on the list… As they are the only ones on the list

  5. PainesMe says:

    Up and coming: Andrew Wilson. If you haven’t run into this guy yet, you will.

  6. Sarah says:

    This is quite a surprise! I’m super honored to even make the list, El.

    The others on this list (and many who are not) have done so much on so many issues – way more than me. I was just one part of a big coalition of people, including my parents, and we were led by the inspirational duo of Lisa Goodman and Mark Purpura, who are the MVP’s of the decade.

  7. Delaware Dem says:

    Drew Wilson is great. I work with him often and he is a rising star. And as I mentioned to Austin on Facebook, Andria Bennett has been a surprise, though there are few progressives downstate.

  8. Delaware Dem says:

    Thanks Sarah for all you do. You are right, there was a coalition, but you personally lobbied many legislators, and you put a face and a name to what to many downstaters and a few upstaters is an abstract concept to them. Some did not understand transgendered people. You made them understand. It was one of the few examples I can think of where one person really made a difference on her own.

  9. Perry says:

    I think Joanne Cabry deserves recognition for her consistent progressive voice and leadership here in Sussex County, yet heard also in Dover and throughout the state.

  10. Geezer says:

    Ennis is a Kent County guy, isn’t he?

  11. Delaware Dem says:

    Absolutely, she is a great Sussex Progressive.

  12. Jim McGiffin says:

    Can’t we count Bruce Ennis as a downstate legislator? Much of his district is in Kent County.

  13. Delaware Dem says:

    Geezer, Ennis’ district is in both NCC and Kent. Is he from Kent? I dunno.

  14. Delaware Dem says:

    Jim, actually, the majority of his district (the 14th) is in NCCo. See this picture:

  15. Recovering Idelist says:

    I believe Ennis lives in Smyrna, which is Kent County. I think the same arguments used to keep Gov. Markell off the list could be used to keep Sen. Ennis off the list. Joanne Cabry, on the other hand, would have been a great addition for her work to build a progressive coalition in Sussex.

  16. Again, ElSom, thank you for this effort. I am honored to share a position with such wonderful 2013 MVPs.

    In addition to Joanne’s work in Sussex, Mitch Crane deserves a shout out for his great work for the party in Sussex, and for his leadership with the DE Manufactured Housing Relocation Trust Authority.

    Let’s face it, the top ten list this year needs to be much longer than ten!

  17. Ernie Lehman says:

    This poll holds very little credibility by not including Rep. John Kowalko, in my view the most prominent Progressive in the Delaware Assembly.

  18. The people I listed this year all were on it by dint of what they accomplished this year.

    Kowalko, Barbieri, Melanie George Smith, and Ed Osienski, among others, were not ranked here, but have yet (spoiler alert) to be listed in my rankings of the 62 legislators. None of them have a down arrow by their name, if you get my drift.

  19. AQC says:

    John Kowalko will be to the Delaware Democratic Party what the tea party is to the national Republican Party.

  20. No, no, no. Let’s not turn this thread into the annual alleged ‘dissing of Kowalko’ conversation.

    I know what I said about the ‘airing of the grievances’, but let’s stay on topic here.


  21. Recovering Idelist says:

    “John Kowalko will be to the Delaware Democratic Party what the tea party is to the national Republican Party.”

    I see him playing more of a Bernie Sanders role. Personally, I’m glad we have John Kowalko to push the overton window leftward.

  22. Delaware Dem says:

    I think John Kowalko would be the first to say that he wants more and better progressives in this state to join him. He has been on this list many times. And now this year, he has company within the General Assembly and and without. In my opinion, Ernie, this list gains credibility without him on the list, because it is time we recognize other progressives who have done good, and others who are not necessarily progressive (Blevins, Ennis) but who have nonetheless have furthered progressive causes in their own right. If this list was all Kowalko all the time, then we would lose credibility, not gain it.

  23. Delaware Dem says:

    Completely agree Recovering Idealist. He is there to be the voice of our better angels.

  24. Delaware Dem says:

    AQC, that is by far the dumbest thing you have ever written here. The analogy fails on multiple levels, but here is the first and most important one: even if you accept that Kowalko = Tea Party in that they are the “extremes” of their respective parties and ideologies, the Establishment of the Democratic Party does not fear and cowtow to Kowalko as the Establishment of the Republican Party does to the Tea Party.

    Everything that Kowalko and likeminded Progressives like Baumbach, Peterson, and Townsend have accomplished has been despite the Establishment.

  25. Jen Wallace says:

    As someone who got an honorable mention on last year’s MVP list (thank you!), I’m chiming in to say that I think Rep. Kowalko deserves to be on the list. He consistently stands up for his constituents and the residents of this state. He is a principled leader who does what he thinks is right even when it challenges the leadership of his party or might not be the most popular decision with everyone. Basically, he sticks his neck out…which is something that is noteworthy trait in a politician.

    By the way, I am the Chair of the Green Party of Delaware and I’ve got no skin in this game. I just think a leader as fair, open-minded and principled as John Kowalko deserves to recognized even when we all already know he is an MVP.

  26. Delaware Dem says:

    I agree with everything you say Jen, and I think some are taking it as some kind of insult to Kowalko that he is not on the list. It is not intended that way at all. Tell you what, next year, if his Single Payer Bill gets passed or even gets a vote on the floor, or if he leads the charge on lobbying disclosure and campaign disclosure reform in the wake of the Veasey Report, he will be back on this list. In the meantime, the suggestion of John Kowalko is noted, so can we spend a little more time talking about who is actually on the list?

  27. Delaware Dem says:

    Perhaps we can put together our own lists, since this MVP list is only the opinion of one of our contributors, El Somnambulo. He did a great job in compiling it and in explaining it here and on WDEL this morning. But here is my list and you will see where we differ:

    Honorable Mentions–Patti Blevins and John Kowalko
    10. Senator Bob Marshall
    9. Senator Karen Peterson
    8. Senator Margaret Rose Henry
    7. Ezra Temko
    6. Erik Raser-Schramm
    5. Representative Paul Baumbach
    4. Senator Bryan Townsend
    3. Lisa Goodman, Mark Purpura and Drew Fennell
    2. Sally and Dave McBride (Sarah’s parents)
    1. Sarah McBride

  28. puck says:

    This year the award seems to be tilted toward victories in social justice, which is great. Discrimination against LGBT is sharp and hurtful and damages all of society. But now let us all put our shoulders to the wheel against the broader equally hurtful problems of economic injustice for all people. Victories in social justice are one thing, because they don’t require any sacrifice from the economic elite It Frankly, I think they just gave up because it wasn’t worth their time to argue about.. It is notable that this year’s progressive accomplishments did not result in any significant change in the budget or taxation. But economic justice will require that the elite share a bigger piece of the pie with labor, and that will be a real fight.

  29. Steve Newton says:

    I think Sarah should make the top of anyone’s list this year, progressive or not, for showing everyone that one passionate individual, willing to risk herself, can achieve what almost no one else believed to be possible.

    If I were a progressive I could not in good conscience put Senator Blevins higher on this list than honorable mention. Yes, she has steered the Senate toward some social issues, but I think that was more the case of being smart enough not to try to resist the flood than showing real leadership. On the economic issues, Blevins is still back thoroughly in the Delaware Way pack. It was Senator Blevins who helped craft the deal that allowed Highmark of Delaware to be exempted from the requirement of a multi-million-dollar reserve fund previously demanded by state law (and necessary, BTW), and it was also Senator Blevins who (as part of that same deal) severely weakened the Attorney General’s ability to have any oversight of the health insurance industry. Given what we already know we have as a Commissioner of Insurance (companies), that doesn’t sound too progressive to me (although it could be argued that I don’t get to count what she did in 2011-2012 against her).

  30. Jen Wallace says:

    Of course, it is your list after all, but I just wanted to stick in my 2 cents. I might take issue with a few others who made it on the list as well, but then I’m sure you might not be surprised by that.

  31. Steve and Jen, I agree. It is admittedly my list, and I’ve laid out my criteria.

    DelDem laid out a real good list, and I think he used different, but no less legitimate, criteria than I did.

    This is Blevins’ first appearance on my list, and there’s no getting around Steve’s great point about Highmark. That will ultimately impact her ranking in my 62 legislators’ survey. As will what she did this year.

  32. John Young says:

    MRH at 9?

    Sold out on HB 165 further the emerging caste system in DE public schools. Others on this list also sold out, but she held the vote that could have locked it in committee, and she succumbed to Sokola’s bullying.

    Shameful vote.

  33. John Young says:

    El Som,

    thanks for calling Jack out on the whole spectrum.

  34. John Young says:

    Also, Mr. Raser-Schramm’s business was involved as lobbying for the DE Charter School Network in the fight on HB 165 I’m pretty sure. Again, a complete non-starter for MVP in my book. That organization’s (DE Charter Network) head stood in defense of a school leader with documented phony credentials against a BOD that could not remover her in enough time to save a school (Pencader).

    Shameful stuff.

  35. Jason330 says:

    I was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” again this year. When George Baily says,

    Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. Just a minute. Now, you’re right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was — Why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get outta your slums, Mr. Potter. And what’s wrong with that? Why — here, you’re all businessmen here. Don’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?

    You, you said that they — What’d you say just a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even thought of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what?! Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken-down that — You know how long it takes a workin’ man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.

    My heart broke. There isn’t a single person on the list, save perhaps Ennis, that gives a flying fuck about “the working man.” The Democratic Party doesn’t give a flying fuck about the working man. We don’t even talk about the working man a legitimate constituency anymore.

    (Thanks Bill Clinton!) Anyway, it is all great and good that the transgender and gay have a home in the Democratic party – but we are closer than ever to being the boutique party instead of the mass movement for both social and economic justice.

    Let’s make a new year’s resolution to FORCE some Democrats into being on the side of the workingman, so they can be recognized here for that next year.

  36. Jason330 says:

    Actually, as I take a second look – there are some Democrats that give a flying fuck about the working man. It would be more accurate to say that there are no Democrats with any policy making authority who give a flying fuck about the working man.

    This is a grave situation. There are actual working men and woman who are so disregarded by the Party of Roosevelt that they think the Tea Party represents them.

    That’s kookooville.