Togetherness is in the air at Return Day


GEORGETOWN — Unity was the theme in Sussex County Thursday as Delaware’s elected officials gathered for the biennial festival of Return Day.

The Republicans dealt the Democrats a major blow Tuesday by knocking off Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, but in the spirit of Return Day, politicians from all parties preached cooperation as they gathered in Georgetown.

The tradition, which dates back more than two centuries, allows Delawareans of differing ideologies to bury the hatchet, both literally and figuratively.

“There’s healing. You know when you announce you’re running for office that everything you said and did over the course of the campaign will be right there looking you in the face,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper said.

It’s a tradition the country as a whole needs, he believes.

Sen. Carper, a Democrat, attended his first Return Day in 1974 — meaning perhaps no one ever has participated in more.

Gov.-elect John Carney received a warm welcome, and he spent time before the parade greeting lawmakers, supporters and others at a reception at Delaware Technical Community College.

He was one of four Democrats who won statewide office Tuesday. The party has controlled the governor’s mansion for the past 24 years and will keep it for another four, with term-limited Gov. Jack Markell passing the proverbial baton.

“I feel great about leaving the state in very good hands,” Gov. Markell, who Sen. Carper called one of the state’s two best governors in history, said before the parade.

Despite losing all four statewide offices on the ballot Tuesday, Republicans also felt good.

“We’re obviously in Sussex County, so the mood in Sussex County is that every office, including all the row offices, are all Republicans, except for one that’s on the east side. I don’t know the stats but someone told me probably the first time in 50 years this has happened,” Minority Leader Danny Short of Seaford said.

“So Sussex County is obviously very jovial, and the fact the president-elect, (Donald) Trump, is obviously a Republican, is a little more of icing on the cake. Well, I think the candles are actually lit, to be honest with you.”

For the third consecutive election, the GOP gained a Senate seat. Anthony Delcollo took down Sen. Blevins in the Elsmere-area 7th Senate District, making her the only incumbent legislators to lose. The outcome also took the Democrats’ lead in the Senate down to one, 11-10.

However, that may not last.

A special election will be held in February or March to fill the Senate seat held by Lt. Gov.-elect Bethany Hall-Long, who represents the 10th Senate District in Middletown.

Winning it would give the GOP control of the Senate for the first time in 44 years.

Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, acknowledged Thursday he is considering running for the office.

“We’re going to put our heart and soul into it,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said of the forthcoming special election.

House Democrats will likely choose their leadership next week. According to Rep. Schwartzkopf, no changes are expected to the team of him, Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst of Bear and Majority Whip John Viola of Newark.

Senate Republicans already re-elected Minority Leader Gary Simpson of Milford and Minority Whip Greg Lavelle of Sharpley.

However, more changes could be coming.

A new president pro tem must be chosen when the General Assembly convenes in January, and because of Sen. Blevins’ loss, the holder has yet to be decided.

Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said the caucus will meet at some point before lawmakers return to Legislative Hall in Dover and select a new pro tem.

Sen. McDowell, who has been in the Senate for 40 years and won re-election Tuesday to set a Delaware record for legislative service, appears unlikely to seek the position, saying he does not want to give up his spot as chairman of the Joint Finance Committee.

Should Republicans win the special election, Sen. Simpson said he would likely aim for the pro tem job.

Several Democrats said they expect their party to work together with President Trump. Among them was newly elected Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the first woman and first African-American member of Congress ever elected from Delaware.

Like Sens. Carper and Chris Coons, she plans to take the train to and from Washington every day.

Ms. Blunt Rochester gushed as she spoke about Return Day Thursday.

“It’s like a family reunion,” she said. “I feel like I’m seeing people from all various times of my professional career. It really does feel like a family reunion and I think it’s symbolic of how we in Delaware try to run civil, positive campaigns and realize that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans, we’re all Delawareans, we have to come together.”

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