Commentary: Delaware legislators a reflection of constituency

I had been to The Green in Dover many times, but I had never been inside of Legislative Hall. That changed in January when our bishop appointed me as our synod’s public policy officer for Delaware. I spent two or three days there almost every week over the last six months when the legislature was in session. I sat in our hearings, climbed into the galleries to listen to legislative sessions, and I set out to get acquainted with our state’s legislators.

Legislative Hall is small, and most days it is crowded. When groups come, they often wear T-shirts so that their cause can be identified.

Gordon Simmons

Persons with obvious handicaps wore T-shirts expressing their opposition to the so-called “dying with dignity” bill. Nattily dressed young women came wearing bright T-shirts that proclaimed “Moms for Sensible Gun Laws” and their opponents, some rougher-looking men, had shirts that announced “I will not comply.”

Delaware has 21 state senators and 41 representatives — 62 in all. Over the last months I met with 59 of them. (There were three who were “too busy” to find 10 minutes to meet with me over the six-month session, but I’m not bitter!) They’re an amazing assortment of people. For the most part, they are cordial with one another and, on many issues, come to agreement. Sometimes members cross party lines to vote with the legislators of the opposition. Democrats have significant majorities, but it takes a 60% vote to pass bills that would raise revenue, and both parties know that.

In their backgrounds, the legislators are pretty representative of the state’s population. Almost one-quarter of them are retired, and the rest include teachers, social workers, business owners, farmers, realtors, attorneys, insurance agents, health care workers, and financial advisors. About two-thirds (this was of interest to me) claim some religious affiliation, Roman Catholics being by far the largest group. A little less than 20% are black or Hispanic.

There are many letters to this newspaper that are highly critical of our legislators, even in personal ways. Of course everyone has a perfect right to express his or her own opinions — pro and con — and in fact that is an important part of the work of the office which I serve. I came away, however, pretty much respecting the people whom we have elected, and recognizing that, for better or for worse, they are more or less like the rest of us — the people who elected them.

Gordon Simmons is the state public officer for the Delaware Lutheran Office for Public Policy

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