Delaware Democratic Rep. Keeley not seeking another term

DOVER — Rep. Helene Keeley, a Democrat from the 3rd Representative District, announced Tuesday she will not run for reelection.

She is the 11th lawmaker in the 62-person General Assembly who will be retiring this year.

First elected in 1996, Rep. Keeley, of south Wilmington, is the longest serving member of the House Democratic caucus. Among active representatives, only Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, a Hockessin Republican who has been in the General Assembly since 1994, has held a seat longer.

“This is a bittersweet moment, and one that I struggled with during the past month. I’ve always had this tradition to file for re-election on or around May 15 — my birthday — but ever since I filed this year, I could not shake the feeling that it is time for someone else to have an opportunity to serve the 3rd Representative District,” Rep. Keeley, 53, said in a statement.

“My district is incredibly diverse in experiences, income level and demographics, and it has been a true privilege to serve and help my community in all aspects of their lives. I’ve seen the joy of someone who had a criminal record as a kid finally find employment, and the importance of new infrastructure and neighborhood beautification projects in a community.

Helene M. Keeley

“We have the opportunity to enact real change and impact lives through our work in the General Assembly, and I have been lucky enough to represent the city of Wilmington, a city I was born and raised in, for the last 22 years. I hope that another individual will find the same pride and satisfaction I have felt with this great responsibility. I look forward to continuing to serve the public in my current capacity as Community Relations Coordinator with the Department of Labor.”

While the past four years combined saw just nine legislators leave the General Assembly, 13 of the 51 legislative seats up for election in November will not have an incumbent running. Joining Rep. Keeley in retiring are Reps. Melanie George Smith, a Bear Democrat; Harvey Kenton, a Milford Republican; Bryon Short, a Highland Woods Democrat; J.J. Johnson, a New Castle Democrat; Joe Miro, a Pike Creek Valley Republican; Bobby Outten, a Harrington Republican; and Mike Mulrooney, a Wilmington Manor Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, a Wilmington Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, a Milford Republican; and Sen. Brian Bushweller, a Dover Democrat, have also said they are not running.

Meanwhile, Reps. Trey Paradee, a Cheswold Democrat, and Dave Wilson, a Bridgeville Republican, are seeking Senate seats.

Rep. Keeley heads the House Revenue & Finance Committee and formerly was co-chair of the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement. She is the chair-elect of the Council of State Governments, a national nonprofit focused on good public policy.

She’s garnered attention this session for sponsoring legislation that would legalize marijuana. While that bill has not yet been discussed in either chamber, Rep. Keeley plans for it to have a vote before June 30 in the House, where she is “90 percent” sure it will pass.

Even if the measure does not become law this year, Rep. Keeley is confident legalization is on its way to becoming a reality.

“That topic of conversation’s not going away,” she said in an interview.

Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm in a statement described Rep. Keeley as one of Delaware’s “fiercest advocates for change.”

“For more than two decades, Helene has fought on the frontlines to reform our criminal justice system while improving public health,” he said. “She was the author of the Medical Marijuana Act and has led the fight to deregulate and potentially legalize it, in large part due to the racial disparities in how marijuana crimes are prosecuted. She also helped strengthen Delaware’s DUI laws and helped create a safe needle exchange program in the City of Wilmington.

“A champion for Delaware’s working poor, Helene has assisted homeowners by creating a statewide foreclosure mediation program, and is currently pursuing legislation regulating predatory payday loan providers.

“A devoted Democrat and member of the Delaware Democratic Party Executive Committee as Party Treasurer, Helene will be sorely missed.”

Rep. Keeley first won election to the General Assembly on her fourth try, defeating former House Speaker Casimir Jonkiert after three unsuccessful primary attempts. She initially served the 5th Representative District and was redistricted in 2002.

The district is one of the state’s safest Democratic jurisdictions, with about 10,100 Democrats out of 13,800 registered voters. No one else has filed for the seat.

Although Rep. Keeley said she has not lost her passion for service, she’s confident her decision is the right one.

“I honestly feel it’s time, and maybe other people are out there waiting in the wing but they don’t want to run because they didn’t want to run against me but they have the interest in running for office,” she said. “Those people will appear.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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