Eaby seeks to jump from Levy Court to lieutenant governor

Brad Eaby

Brad Eaby

DOVER — For Brad Eaby, the lieutenant governor’s race has truly been a marathon, but now the finish line is in sight.

Mr. Eaby, one of six Democrats seeking the vacant office, said he decided to run for the seat back in December 2014, before outgoing Lt. Gov. Matt Denn had technically left. A 10-year commissioner on Kent County Levy Court, he’s leaned heavily on his service on Levy Court and work as a criminal defense lawyer during his campaign.

“I can bring something to the table, I think I can be helpful,” said Mr. Eaby, the only Kent Countian and one of two lawyers running.

Several of the hopefuls have singled out specific areas or initiatives, such as job creation and health, as their main points of focus during their campaigns. Mr. Eaby is among them, with an emphasis on the Board of Pardons, the five-member group that hears requests from individuals seeking to have their criminal records forgiven.

He sees chairing the board as the lieutenant governor’s “primary constitutional role.”

“If you are arrested and convicted and then you get out, are you done? And the answer is, not really, no,” he said. “You got a lot of stuff you still have to deal with. It impacts your ability to get federal benefits and state benefits and it kind of keeps you in that cycle, and so the pardons process is integral to getting people back on their feet and back in the workforce.”

He has several ideas for making the board more accessible and impactful to the public, such as expediting the process, holding more hearings, linking pardons with expungements and providing automatic pardons for certain low-level crimes.

For misdemeanors and non-violent crimes, the “low-hanging fruit,” the government could in effect make it so a pardon granted by the governor also provides an expungement, which cleanses a criminal record, or it could automatically issue a pardon if the individual in question avoids further legal trouble, Mr. Eaby suggested.

A supporter of criminal justice reform, he has also proposed legalizing marijuana, arguing it would carry with it several benefits for Delaware.

“Prohibition for alcohol didn’t work, and I really view this in a very similar vein. You just create this underground market that is untaxed and unregulated, and I think it just deserves a second look by those who may be against it to begin with,” the Dover resident said.

Legalizing and taxing cannabis would bring in millions for the state, he said, especially at a time when current revenue sources are in question.

The state is facing lawsuits about its auditing of abandoned property, which makes up a large chunk of the state budget: Projections say unclaimed assets will, in the current fiscal year, total $525 million in revenue for Delaware. Mr. Eaby sees legalized, taxed marijuana as a solution that could help make up any gap created by a drop in escheat revenue.

“I think we are going to have to be creative in how we solve our budget problems,” he said.

While two of the three major gubernatorial candidates are opposed to legalizing marijuana, Mr. Eaby said he would still try to convince the governor to push for constitutional marijuana, noting legalization could potentially bring in enough money to avoid tax increases.

The chair of Levy Court’s Finance Department, Mr. Eaby expressed confidence he could help craft the state budget, saying he has “familiarity with budgets and revenue streams and cutting expenses,” although he did acknowledge it is on a “much smaller scale.”

Polling conducted by the Eaby campaign in July showed a tight race, Mr. Eaby said, with him slightly trailing four other candidates. Forty-three percent of respondents were undecided, however, “and so the pollster’s conclusion was ‘It’s anybody’s race, it’s wide open,’” he said.

Financially, he is at a major disadvantage compared to state Sen. Bethany Hall-Long and Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Kathy McGuiness, each of whom has at least $88,000 in donations on hand. Mr. Eaby has $7,800 available.

He admitted is “a little behind” in fundraising and door-knocking, explaining he had been unable to take a leave of absence from his law practice until recently.

In Sept. 13’s primary, winning a sizable chunk of votes in New Castle, the state’s most populous county, will be key to victory. Mr. Eaby could benefit from the fact three candidates are from New Castle and two are from Sussex while he is the only one in Kent.

Befitting his status as a 10-year Levy Court member, he has been endorsed by several central Delaware figures, including Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover.

“Over the many years I have known and worked with Brad Eaby, he has shown time and again not only his sincere and honest commitment to the vitality of our state but, just as much, his deep and profound belief in doing what is right for all Delawareans,” he said in a statement posted to Mr. Eaby’s website. “Brad Eaby is a person who excels in his chosen profession, earning the abiding respect of his colleagues on both sides of the table. He has an intense respect for the history of our great state and the role Delaware has played and continues to play in our great nation.”

Some of the accomplishments Mr. Eaby cites have a distinctly Kent County flavor, such as the DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica. The 12-field area, scheduled to open in the spring, took years of dreaming, planning and cajoling to get started, and Mr. Eaby sees it as a key example of economic growth he can propel.

“The same thing can happen statewide,” he said at a debate earlier this month. “That’s a $20 million project that’s going to impact the whole state. Twenty million dollars a year. It’s the biggest thing to happen in Kent County probably in 25 years.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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