Drug epidemic a top issue in 21st Senate District race

SEAFORD — The drug epidemic and destructive impact of addiction and overdose loom as a major concern for 21st Senatorial District candidates.

Just more than a week from the Nov. 6 general election, incumbent Sen. Bryant Richardson pegs prevention as his top priority push.

Bryant Richardson

“The thing that I am fighting the hardest for is getting a drug prevention curriculum in our schools,” said Sen. Richardson, a Republican from Seaford. “I offered the resolution to form the Delaware Youth Drug Prevention Curriculum Task Force. It passed the House and Senate. We’ve had our third meeting so far. We have our next meeting on Nov. 1, I believe it is.”

Democratic challenger Bob Wheatley, of Laurel, said prevention is important but is one of several key spokes in the wheel.

“Whenever anybody ever asks me for a No. 1 thing, I usually say, ‘There isn’t just one.’ It’s hard to say what is most important. Probably the most urgent thing we are dealing with is the drug crisis,” said Mr. Wheatley.

“Prevention is important. It’s certainly part of the long-term plan. The two other pieces though that are equally important that have to be addressed are treatment and treatment options, and law enforcement issues and what the law enforcement folks really need to stem the tide.”

“The No. 1 priority for me is just to get some kind of successful drug prevention program in our schools,” Sen. Richardson said. “What I have learned through research is that the Botvin LifeSkills training curriculum is the best.

“So far, after our first three meetings, people sitting around the table, some from the University of Delaware, DHSS (Delaware Health and Social Services) and DOE (Department of Education) kind of all agree that this is right. So, what I want to see come out of it is I want to see a one-page memo, not a 63-page report, but a one-page memo that is an action plan that says this is what we are going to do for our kids. We’re going to give them the best program available, put it in our schools and help our kids learn the value of staying drug-free.”

Sen. Richardson, who defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Bob Venables in 2014, said the Botvin program has been implemented as a pilot program in a few schools in Delaware “at the ninth-grade level. But it’s only in a few schools. I want to see it in every school,” he said.

Bob Wheatley

Mr. Wheatley, a commercial real estate agent who has served on the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission since 1994, including 13 years as chairman, emphasized there are several pieces to solving the drug crisis puzzle.

“There isn’t one thing, because all of these things are related. The drug problem, if you look at that holistically, it starts when these kids are in middle school,” he said. “That is when they begin to get those kinds of influences.

“If they are struggling in school and nobody is helping them, and they go through two or three years of this by the time they get into high school they are kind of getting the message that this whole system is not working for them.

“Then, the drug man comes along. And he’s got all of this bling going on. He’s driving a late model car. And he says, ‘Hey, you don’t have to work like all of these other working stiffs. You can work for me. You can sleep in. You can even quit school. and you’ll make plenty of money.’ Of course, they don’t tell them about the fact that you’re risking your life, you could be killed and everything you are doing is illegal.”

“So, the real key is to keep these kids in school, keep kids from dropping out of school. If you keep them in school where they belong, you’ve got time for good things to happen. Then the other piece of it is when they are getting ready to come out of school they need to be qualified to hold a good job or they need to go on for further training to hold a good job or they need to go to college,” Mr. Wheatley added. “And there also must be good jobs for them. So, all of these things are related. The whole thing is one big problem, with about four or five parts to it.”

Sussex County voters will decide two other state Senate races. Republican Sen. Ernie Lopez is challenged by Democrat David Baker in District 6.

Candidates in the 18th Senatorial District are Democrat James Purcell and Republican Dave Wilson, who currently represents the 35th Representative District in the House of Representatives.

Contested state House districts in Sussex County include the:

• 14th, where Republican James DeMartino is challenging Democrat Pete Schwartzkopf, the Speaker of the House;

• 20th, with Democrat John Bucchioni challenging Republican incumbent Steve Smyk;

• 38th, where Republican incumbent Ron Gray will face Democrat Meghan Kelly; and

• 41st, with Democrat Brad Connor opposing Republican incumbent Rich Collins.

Republican House of Representative members Ruth Briggs King (37th), Danny Short (39th) and Tim Dukes (40th) are unopposed, as is Republican Jesse Vanderwende, who won a primary to succeed Rep. Wilson in the 35th.

Also unopposed are Republican row office incumbents: Sheriff Robert T. Lee, Recorder of Deeds Scott Dailey and Register of Wills Cynthia Green.


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