Townsend touts experience as elected official

DOVER — Four years ago, Bryan Townsend was a political newcomer running a grassroots campaign against the most powerful member of the state Senate. Now, he’s a state senator seeking higher office — Delaware’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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A Democrat representing the 11th Senatorial District, which covers part of Newark, he is one of six candidates in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary and the only one to have held an elected position.

“I actually have a record of legislating,” he said. “I’m the only person in the Democratic primary with any elected experience, and I have been here in Delaware the past several years tackling the big issues on behalf of my district and Newark, but many of these big issues have statewide impact. So you pick the big issue that’s going on and I’ve been involved the past few years.”

A native Delawarean, Sen. Townsend said he opted to run for the Senate in 2012 over dissatisfaction with a lack of stability in the education system and with President Pro Tempore Anthony DeLuca.

“It was a combination of seeing shortcomings in education policy and then feeling that the incumbent in the office wasn’t focusing enough on solving that,” he said. “The Newark area, south Newark area, with Christina School District, has had a lot of education challenges over the past 15 years in particular, and a lot of families were stewing about that, rightfully so, and you see the policy needs, you see whether it’s being addressed or not, and when it wasn’t, I felt it was important.”

As a newcomer taking on a leading member of the establishment in a primary, he was a heavy underdog: Sen. DeLuca brought in about four times as much money and had the backing of virtually all key unions and Democratic politicians.

Bryan Townsend

Bryan Townsend

It didn’t matter.

Voters chose the challenger, which Sen. Townsend attributed to his grassroots support and efforts to personally connect with residents throughout the district.

Since winning election, he has defended his seat and made waves by supporting many pieces of legislation, including bills to raise the minimum wage, repeal the death penalty and modernize the Public Defender’s Office, the latter of which he introduced. In the two-year 148th General Assembly, he filed 45 bills and resolutions, second among the legislature’s 62 members.

Some of his proposals have been particularly controversial: Legislation that would prohibit police from arresting or deporting anyone living the state illegally solely on the basis of their immigration status drew national attention after Fox News highlighted an article on the proposal in March.

“Delaware could become the nation’s first ‘sanctuary state’ — endangering all of its legal citizens and effectively crippling both state and local law enforcement,” Deirdre Reilly wrote.

The conservative report, Sen. Townsend wrote on Facebook, was “bad journalism” that ignored the fact he did not plan to run the bill after learning police already followed many of the practices included in it.

He also filed a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed more spending in politics nationwide. That proposal surprised some colleagues in the General Assembly and stalled in the House after making it through the Senate.

Undoubtedly liberal — he was rated as one of the legislature’s most left-leaning members by Americans for Democratic Action in the 148th General Assembly — he nonetheless described himself as intent on working with others to break the inaction that plagues Washington.

“I represent someone who is willing to put aside typical partisan characterizations and then if you’re respectful and polite in the process and you focus on the actual policy, you can often agree on a whole lot,” Sen. Townsend said. “I guess you’d say I put the progress in progressive.”

Outside of the political arena, he’s a corporate lawyer and probably the first Delaware candidate who has attempted to swim the English Channel (he made it about two-thirds of the way). At 35, he would be one of the youngest representatives Delaware has elected in the past 200 years.

He has racked up endorsements, gaining support from the Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council, the New Castle County Democratic Party executive committee and a host of state lawmakers.

Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, the only legislator to endorse him in 2012 against Sen. DeLuca, announced her support for her colleague in September, four days after Sen. Townsend declared his run.

She praised his “unfailing pursuit of social justice and economic fairness” in the announcement, and in May, President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, also publicly backed him.

“From day one in Dover, Bryan has shown a keen intellect for understanding complicated issues and an incredible work ethic to secure solutions to them,” she said in a statement. “Strong leaders know when to stand up and fight, but they also know when it’s time to work as part of a broader team to get things done. It’s that temperament and commitment to solutions that make me proud to endorse Bryan as Delaware’s next congressperson.”

He is in good shape in fundraising too, with $536,000 in donations, more than any other individuals seeking the office, as of the latest financial filings. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that analyzes campaign spending, a plurality of his contributions came from the law field, with lawyers and law firms donating about $124,000.

Sen. Townsend views former state Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester as his main competition and believes his continued voter outreach efforts will lead to a victory.

“Fundamentally it’s on the doorsteps,” he said. “I’ve knocked a bunch of doors. My team has knocked an unbelievable, inspirational number of doors.”

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