Let’s build a new “Delaware Way”

Let’s build a new “Delaware Way”

The News Journal recently published an article on the governor’s race that described Congressman John Carney’s uncontested quest for the Democratic nomination as “a return to the establishment controlled brand of politics long considered ‘The Delaware Way.”

No Democrat is challenging Carney, and that is “precisely the way party elders want it.”

The article quotes Joe Conaway, former Sussex County Administrator, as saying “I know some people use the term ‘Delaware Way’ in a derogatory way, but I think it’s a good thing.” Joseph Pika, a former University of Delaware political science professor, agrees: “We (in Delaware) have a tradition of someone saying, ‘I’m going to run and I’m the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

But while deferring to power and party elites may be the traditional “Delaware Way,” it is hardly compatible with the democratic values most Americans hold dear, including those of us who live in the First State.

Down here in Sussex County, in the 14th representative district, we definitely have our “800-pound gorilla,” Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. I am challenging him in the Democratic primary – the first Democrat to do so in the entire fourteen years he has been in office. And while voters on doorsteps all over the district are happy to finally have a choice, the self-proclaimed “party elders” on the local Democratic committee have done everything in their power to shut me out.

In January, the Democratic committee for the 14th district took the unprecedented step of endorsing Schwartzkopf before anyone even had a chance to file as a primary candidate. And to make matters worse, they did so in direct violation of their own committee guidelines that were adopted unanimously in 2010: “Given that the Democratic candidates for office are typically highly committed and effective leaders, it shall be the general policy of the 14th District Democratic Committee not to endorse nor recommend for endorsement Democratic candidates running in primary elections.”

And even if there is a “compelling reason to endorse,” such an endorsement may only be made after the committee has reviewed “all Democratic candidates who are running in the primary.” Clearly, that cannot happen until after the candidacy filing date, which is July 12.

Why did the committee give an early endorsement to Rep. Schwartzkopf in direct violation of its own longstanding policy? As clearly stated at the meeting (I was there) to keep anyone else out of the race and allow the incumbent to preserve his resources.

That early endorsement has had serious consequences for my campaign. The committee endorsement means that I am denied any funding from the Democratic Party and I am prohibited from using the vitally important Vote Builder database. Moreover, as I have recently discovered, because of the early endorsement, the committee will not even allow me to speak at a committee meeting, a courtesy afforded to any other Democratic candidate for any other office.

Preventing the emergence of new leaders may be the “Delaware Way” but it’s hardly the essence of the democratic (or Democratic) process.

I was interested to see Joe Conaway quoted in the News Journal article because I had just recently had a confrontation with him at a candidate forum at the Sussex County Democratic headquarters. As soon as he saw me, he became visibly angry: “Who do you think you are? You have no business running against Pete Schwartzkopf! I used to run this county, and I’m going to do everything I can to see that you lose.”

Conaway epitomizes the old Delaware Way – the good ol’ boys with their backroom deals, party elites fighting desperately to hold onto power and maintain the status quo. People like that believe the party establishment gets to decide who runs for office. They have no respect for the voters or the will of the people, they “run” the election process.

Yet, while the party establishment has done its best to shut me out, that has only deepened my commitment to run because I believe that the voters, not the establishment, get to choose their representatives. Voters deserve a choice.

It is long past time that we build a new Delaware Way, one that is open to new ideas, inclusive, respectful of a wide variety of viewpoints and not afraid of honest competition.

It is time for a change!

Don Peterson lives in Rehoboth Beach and is a candidate for State Representative in the 14th District.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *