Legislators pick new caucus leaders

DOVER — All four caucuses elected new leadership Wednesday, one day after the election.

Combined, the caucuses picked five new members and elevated one to a higher position, replacing lawmakers who retired, were defeated or chose not to seek another term in leadership.

The Senate Republican caucus saw a major shakeup with Minority Leader Gary Simpson not seeking re-election to the General Assembly and Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, the presumptive next leader, being defeated in Tuesday’s election.

After some consternation, members of the nine-member body picked Sen. Gerald Hocker of Ocean View as minority leader, and Sen. Cathy Cloutier as minority whip. Sen. Cloutier, who represents the Arden area, is one of just two New Castle County Republicans in the Senate.

Mr. Simpson, from Milford, had been the caucus’ leader for a decade. Mr. Lavelle, who represented the Sharpley area, was House minority leader from the 2010 election to the 2012 election, at which point he became Senate minority whip.

Gerald Hocker

“I am very thankful for the opportunity to lead the caucus as we head into the 150th General Assembly,” Sen. Hocker, who served as Mr. Lavelle’s minority whip in the House, said in a statement. “There is a lot of work to be done to improve our economy, our education system and to help improve the quality of life for Delawareans. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

In the Senate, Democrats named President Pro Tempore David McBride as the chamber’s leading member once again, although not before a three-and-a-half-hour meeting. While the pro tem still must be elected by the full Senate when the General Assembly convenes in January, such an outcome is extremely likely.

The New Castle Democrat, who became pro tem after Patricia Blevins was defeated in 2016, had been majority leader for four years.

Senate Democrats saw Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry retire this year. They replaced the longtime Wilmington senator by elevating Majority Whip Nicole Poore, who represents New Castle, and naming Sen. Bryan Townsend of Newark the new whip.

Delawareans elected to the Senate several Democrats from the party’s more liberal wing. The selection of Sen. Townsend, one of the chambers more left-leaning members, could indicate unity among those senators and a desire to push progressive legislation.

“It is an honor and a privilege to receive my colleagues’ support to return to the Pro Tem’s chair,” Sen. McBride said in a statement. “I am ready to work with everyone – in my Caucus, across the aisle, and outside of the Senate – to continue advancing the work that our constituents elected us to do: growing an economy that supports workers and a vibrant middle class; protecting our health and environment; and ensuring that social, educational, and economic opportunity are available to all.”

Top House Democratic leadership remains the same, with Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf of Rehoboth Beach and Valerie Longhurst of Bear each getting a fourth term as speaker and majority leader, respectively. The change comes in majority whip, as Rep. Larry Mitchell of Elsmere replaces Rep. John Viola of Newark, who opted not to seek another term as whip.

Rep. Schwartzkopf said it was the first time over the past four leadership elections that no one else has contested any spots. Although he still must be approved as speaker by the entire chamber Jan. 8, he is set to become the longest-tenured Democratic House speaker in Delaware history.

Rep. Danny Short, who has managed his caucus for the past six years, was given another two years as minority leader. With Deborah Hudson, who had been the minority whip since the end of 2012, losing Tuesday, House Republicans went with Rep. Tim Dukes as the new No. 2.

“We have an obligation to introduce legislation regarding the issues that we believe are important to our constituents and the state as a whole,” Rep. Dukes said in a statement. “Our challenge is to convince our colleagues on the other side of the aisle of the importance of each proposal, its merit, and viability.”

Ms. Hudson, who represented the Hockessin area, was the longest-tenured member of the House, with 24 years under her belt. Her defeat and Wednesday’s selection also means House GOP leadership hails from the southwest corner of the state, with Rep. Short coming from Seaford and Rep. Dukes from Laurel.

Rep. Short was minority whip from the 2008 election to the 2010 election.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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