GOP senators block nominee for DNREC chief

Shawn Garvin

DOVER — In a perhaps unprecedented move, the Delaware Senate did not vote on Gov. John Carney’s nomination for secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Maneuvering by Senate Republicans blocked the vote, leaving nominee Shawn Garvin in limbo, subject to the outcome of a special election next month.

Because the chamber has 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, with one vacancy, neither side has a majority on its own. In the event of a tie, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat, casts the deciding vote.

However, Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, left before the Senate convened Wednesday, meaning a vote along party lines would have fallen just short, at 10-9.

Republicans are betting on winning the Feb. 25 special election for the 10th Senate District.

No vote was taken on Mr. Garvin, and afterward, the Senate’s top Democrat, President Pro Tempore David McBride, of New Castle, appeared irritated.

“Members of the Senate Democratic caucus were prepared to confirm Shawn Garvin on Wednesday,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “He has significant experience and leadership necessary to become the next secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Republicans should set aside political differences and join us in confirming this qualified candidate.”

Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said the caucus has “concerns over a host of issues,” although he largely declined to specify what those issues are.

During the committee hearing beforehand, Sen. Lavelle questioned Mr. Garvin about the Sustainable Energy Utility, which he argued is a bad investment with a “horribly conflicted” oversight board.

Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, fired back at his colleague, saying the nonprofit is a “great boon” to the state.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, took issue with Mr. Garvin’s previous experience as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, a position to which he was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2009.

“I have no concern with Shawn. I think he was a smart guy, I don’t think there was any problem with him personally at all. He seemed like a nice guy,” Sen. Bonini said. “My concern was … we’re talking about a high-level EPA officer in the Obama administration, and the EPA in the Obama
administration was probably the most anti-business EPA in history.”

Former Sen. Nancy Cook said the last gubernatorial nominee she recalls who was voted down was a Family Court judge around 25 years ago.

Although Mr. Garvin was not technically rejected because no vote was taken, his path to the cabinet position is blocked, for now.

Sen. Lavelle said the caucus will continue to discuss the DNREC post with Gov. Carney. He declined to speculate whether Republican lawmakers could vote for Mr. Garvin.

Even if Sen. Lawson, who Sen. Lavelle said left early for family reasons, is back today and all other GOP senators are present, the caucus could easily block Mr. Garvin by having one member not vote on the nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, declined to comment Wednesday beyond saying he would prefer to discuss the maneuvering the next day.

“We continue to talk to members of the Delaware Senate about the nomination of Shawn Garvin to lead DNREC,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Shawn is a remarkably qualified candidate. We look forward to his confirmation in March.”

The governor was not available to answer questions.

Other nominees

The Senate did confirm six nominees, with little drama for five of them. The governor’s cabinet now has 16 members, although three of those are temporary.

DNREC, the Department of Labor and the Delaware Economic Development Office are being led by holdovers from the administration of former Gov. Jack Markell.

DNREC Secretary David Small will remain in charge of the agency for the time being.

Patrice Gilliam-Johnson is serving as secretary of labor while a review of discrimination within in the agency is conducted. According to a spokesman for Gov. Carney, there is no timetable for when the review might end.

Once the analysis is complete, Ms. Gilliam-Johnson could still be retained on a permanent basis.

DEDO, which may be eliminated or altered based on the recommendations of a newly created task force, continues to be led by Bernice Whaley.

Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman for Gov. Carney, said in an email “there is no requirement to re-nominate cabinet secretaries currently serving.”

The new additions confirmed Wednesday are:

• Robert Coupe, secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security

• Michael Scuse, secretary of the Department of Agriculture

• Carol Timmons, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard

• Anas Ben Addi, director of the Delaware State Housing Authority

• Susan Bunting, secretary of the Department of Education

• James Collins, chief information officer at the Department of Technology and Information

Mr. Collins has headed DTI since 2014, while Mr. Ben Addi has overseen DSHA for the past eight years. Mr. Coupe was head of the Department of Correction from 2013 until last week, and before that, he was superintendent of the Delaware State Police for more than three years.

Brig. Gen. Timmons has been part of the Delaware National Guard for 39 years, and Dr. Bunting has been in charge of the Indian River School District since 2006.

Mr. Coupe replaces James Mosley, Brig. Gen. Timmons follows Lt. Gen. Frank Vavala and Dr. Bunting succeeds Stephen Godowsky.

During the Senate Executive Committee hearing, senators questioned Dr. Bunting on education policy, spending and testing.

Dr. Bunting, who repeatedly stated she hopes to improve access to education for all children, said “testing is necessary if we’re going to be able to help every student reach his or her potential.”

Asked about her view on allowing students to opt out of standardized tests, Dr. Bunting said federal law requires 95 percent of students must participate in testing to receive funding but did say in “some instances” individual students have good reasons not to take an assessment.

Indian River is facing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, but Dr. Bunting shrugged it off when questioned.

“We are going, as a school district, to be faced with litigation for a variety of reasons,” she said. “It’s just a sign of the times.”

Sen. Bonini voted against Ms. Bunting, the only formal opposition any of the six successful nominees faced Wednesday.

Mr. Coupe was questioned on record levels of violence in Wilmington and said in response officials “need to give people hope” to decrease crime in the state’s largest city.

Gov. Carney’s cabinet is largely composed of individuals who have previously served in the executive branch in the state government. Four members — Mr. Collins, Mr. Ben Addi, Secretary of State Jeff Bullock and Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan — served in the same roles in the Markell administration, while Mr. Scuse did so in the Ruth Ann Minner. Mr. Coupe held a different post in Gov. Markell’s cabinet.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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