Lone legislator seeking lieutenant governor’s office says experience key

DOVER — In Bethany Hall-Long’s eyes, what sets her apart from the other five Democrats running for lieutenant governor is clear: experience.

A member of the General Assembly since 2002 and the sole candidate for the office from the legislature, she has leaned heavily on that experience as she seeks to differentiate herself from her primary opponents and follow in the footsteps of Ruth Ann Minner, who jumped from the state Senate to the lieutenant governor’s office in 1992.

Sen. Hall-Long, who represents the Middletown area, appears to be at least one of the frontrunners in the crowded Sept. 13 primary. She is well-funded, has solid name recognition and has scored endorsements from unions like the Delaware State Education Association and Delaware Building Trades, the New Castle County Democratic Party Executive Committee and fellow lawmakers.

Bethany Hall Long

Bethany Hall Long

“I’ve been in the arena, and I’ve had to take those tough choices, I’ve had to make those votes,” she said.

“I feel that’s probably why I’ve gotten a lot of endorsements that I’ve gotten, both from colleagues and organizations and associations because they know I’ve taken the punches, they know I can stand up and deliver and be in the arena.”

Political history

First elected to the House in 2002 after a narrow loss in 2000, she won a Senate seat in 2008. She is not up for election in the Senate this year.

As the chair of the Community/County Affairs and Health & Social Services committees, two of the chamber’s busiest groups, she has had the opportunity to stand out by overseeing discussions on and sponsoring numerous pieces of legislation. In the 148th General Assembly, Sen. Hall-Long introduced 46 bills and resolutions, the most among lawmakers.

“Look back at the record, at the leadership, the record of results, the experience, because I think being able to hit the ground running on day one, I think, really helps separate myself from others,” she said.

A University of Delaware nursing professor with a doctorate in the field, she has put that expertise to work as a legislator, specializing in health-related legislation.

As lieutenant governor, she said, her focus on health would not waver — although it would expand to cover not just physical well-being but economic strength.

Sen. Hall-Long, who is fond of noting the next governor has “unprecedented challenges,” said the state and its citizens face dilemmas related to heroin abuse, mental health care and obesity, as well as a shifting job market. Delaware can no longer count on DuPont or auto manufacturing (“chemicals and cars”), mainstays of its economy for decades.

Wants to work with towns

Creativity is required to help grow the economy and to deal with a budget crunch confronting state government, Sen. Hall-Long said.

“One thing I feel very strongly that I would like to do as lieutenant governor working with the next governor, work closely with the towns,” she said.

“Innovation, infrastructure, the best and brightest can happen at our local grassroots level.”

Delaware and its politics are in her blood, she said: she is a native Delawarean and is descended from David Hall, one of the state’s early governors.

She emphasizes her ties to the entire state, noting she grew up in Sussex, lives in New Castle and represented a district in the House that covered part of Kent. Since entering the race, she has been up and down the state, a fixture at various community events.

Although she was the sixth person to enter the Democratic primary, Sen. Hall-Long said she was undaunted by the crowded field. She said she had been “approached” to run for higher office before but felt the time had never been right.

“It’s kind of the natural flow for me to be able to do more for the state, and so, running really as lieutenant governor for the health of Delaware,” she said.

Ammunition for foes

Despite her experience and establishment support making her a formidable candidate, her record is not without potential blemishes. Sen. Hall-Long has been criticized for twice voting against abolishing the death penalty. She has since disavowed that position, saying she has “evolved” and now opposes capital punishment.

At a debate earlier this month, fellow candidate Sherry Dorsey Walker blasted her for opposing repeal, questioning if her changed stance simply reflects what is “convenient.”

Sen. Hall-Long in response largely avoided discussing her change in views, although in a March candidate forum she said “many of us who had to represent districts find it difficult we sometimes had to take votes maybe a little different than ours” in reference to voting to keep the death penalty.

She said she supports the Delaware Supreme Court’s ruling this month that at least temporarily overturned capital punishment in the state.

She has also faced criticism over her husband, Dana, who was caught stealing Republican campaign signs ahead of the 2014 general election.

Mr. Long was charged with theft under $1,500, and an agreement was reached under mediation, allowing him to avoid prosecution. The news came to light less than a week before the election, which Sen. Hall-Long squeaked through by 2 percent, by far her most narrow victory.

In April, audio from a taped conversation with New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon was leaked, allegedly by fired county official David Grimaldi, purporting to show Mr. Long used confidential information in an attempt to help his wife get re-elected in 2014.

Mr. Long, a county housing inspector, was accused of inappropriately using a list of low-income residents to drum up support for Sen. Hall-Long. Mr. Gordon said on the audio he was hesitant to fire Mr. Long because of his wife’s position in the General Assembly.

Both Sen. Hall-Long and Mr. Gordon disputed the accusations, with Mr. Gordon saying he believed the tape had been altered by Mr. Grimaldi.

While Delaware State University political science professor Sam Hoff sees Mr. Long’s actions as a liability, Sen. Hall-Long said no one had mentioned her husband on the campaign trail.

Weighing in

Despite that potential cloud, Dr. Hoff believes the senator is one of the leaders in the race.

A host of legislators think so too.

“Bethany is a hard-working state senator whose responsiveness has put her on the forefront of issues that impact every corner of our state,” Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said in a statement.

“But she doesn’t stop at her district; she has always worked hard to address a multitude of health and wellness issues up and down our state. Bethany is known for bringing people together and achieving results on difficult issues, with a focus on providing access to health care, education and economic security for all Delawareans.”

About Bethany Hall-Long

Age: 52
Seeking: Lieutenant governor’s office
Party: Democrat
Hometown: Middletown
History: Elected to state Senate in 2008; previously served in House for six years; nursing professor at University of Delaware

Meet the candidates

Stories on each of the six Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor will be published this week in an attempt to detail their backgrounds, goals and more. These six will be on the ballot in the Sept. 13 primary election. If you’ve missed any stories, visit delawarestatenews.net to see them.
• Monday: Brad Eaby
• Tuesday: Greg Fuller
• Wednessday: Bethany Hall-Long
• Thursday: Kathy McGuiness
• Friday: Ciro Poppiti
• Saturday: Sherry Dorsey Walker

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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