Compromises, capitulation and Republican outrageousness got you down. How about a feel good story?
Flashback to November 2, 2010. Democrats are decimated across the country. We lose 63 seats in the House of Representatives and thus the majority. We lose six Senate seats and six Governor Mansions. There were some bright spots that night, and one of them is Delaware. Democrats held onto the Senate seat formerly head by Vice President Biden, took back the at large Congressional seat given up by Mike Castle, won 2 seats in the State House and won a surprising victory in the State Treasurer's race.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Delaware was not an automatic beachhead against the Republican wave in 2010. If Mike Castle had not left his house seat to run for Senate, and if he had not lost to Teabagger Christine O'Donnell in Republican primary, I probably would not be writing this post. At the very least, Mike Castle most likely would have won the Senate seat against Chris Coons. And without the insane O'Donnell on the ballot to drive up Democratic turnout against her, it is likely Democrats lose several seats in the state House and Senate, and they definitely lose the Treasurer's race, thus revitalizing a state Republican party that was near death.
Thankfully, Republican voters chose to committ suicide by electing O'Donnell over Castle, and that has given the Democrats and progressives an opening in the First State that is being taken advantage of.
Thus, while nationwide, Democrats and progressives are fighting off a concerted Republican assault on worker's rights, women's rights and the social safety net, the Democratic Party is on the offensive in Delaware, actually considering and passing progressive legislation. Consider the legislation that is before our Democratic General Assembly:
1. Senate Bill 30, the Civil Union and Equality Act of 2011 Here is Governor Jack Markell (D) speaking in support of the bill:
The Senate voted it out of committee last Thursday by a vote of 3 favorable, 1 on its merits and 0 unfavorable. The bill goes to the full Senate with an impressive bicameral and even bipartisan list of co-sponsors.
2. Senate Bill 17, the Delaware Medical Marijuana Act. The State Senate just passed the bill by a pretty shocking 18-3 margin. Only three Republicans opposed the bill, meaning that four Republicans and every Democrat (including some conservative Democrats) in supporting the bill! Prospects for passage in the House, which the Democrats control with a super majority, look encouraging. Under this bill, individuals with qualifying illnesses would be issued identification cards and be limited to purchasing up to six ounces of marijuana each month. Marijuana could only be purchased from a dispensary, and home cultivation would be prohibited. There will only be three dispensaries in the state, one for each county. Qualifying conditions would include cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease or other chronic wasting diseases.
3. House Bill 4, the Lobbying Reform bill that would bar legislators from lobbying for one year after their term ends. This bill was substituted for HS 1, which is another way of saying it was amended so that it takes affect January 1, 2013 rather than 2012. And then it was sent to the House Administration Committee on February 24, 2011, and no action has been taken since.
4. House Bill 5, which focusing on improving Open and Transparent Government by requiring state agencies to respond to FOIA requests within 15 business days. The bill was passed by the House on January 25, 2011 unanimously (40 to 0, with 1 member absent). It was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 15. Progressive Senators Peterson and Katz are sponsoring the bill in the Senate, but given the unanimous passage in the House and the bipartisan sponsorship in the House, its prospects in the Senate are good as well.
5. House Bill 19, the Drug Law Revisions Bill, which would restore judicial discretion in sentencing on drug convictions. The bill passed 39 to 1 in the House, and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary committee for consideration.
6. Governor Markell has also proposed four pieces of gun control legislation. Now, let's just stop there and think about something. Where else in the country is gun control legislation not only being considered, but has a very good chance of passage. The pieces of legislation are:
a) Improving Reporting to Federal NICS Database (HB 48) -- this bill creates an exception to Delaware's Mental Health Patients' Bill of Rights for reporting information to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The bill was reported out of committee in the House on March 30, and an amendment has been filed to clarify the procedures by which persons may appeal their designations as persons prohibited from owning or possessing firearms for mental health reasons. No date has yet been set for a full vote on the amendment or the bill itself.
b) Disposal of Seized Firearms (HB 46) -- This is pretty self explanatory. And yes, this bill does provide a process for legal gun owners to reclaim seized guns. This bill has been reported out of committee, but no vote has been scheduled as yet.
c). Closing the Gun-Show Loophole (SB 39) -- This bill would requiring vendors to have a licensed firearms dealer perform a background check prior to the sale, delivery or transfer of any firearm at a gun show. Under existing law, firearms dealers are already required to perform background checks on the buyer or transferee in private sales. This bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee just on March 29.
d). Banning Possession of Weapons by Individuals Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs (SB 29) -- This bill would make it illegal for individuals to possess firearms outside of their homes while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This bill was assigned to the public safety committee in the Senate on March 29.
Last week, two fathers of victims from the Virginia Tech shooting met with Governor Jack Markell in support of the above package of gun safety bills, saying these bill are examples of “common sense safety.”
Governor Markell then said, early on in the video, "Within in a couple of hours of my making these proposals, the NRA called their members and said I was trying to take their guns away, which is absurd. Where is the place for common sense? Where is the place for common sense? And they think that we are going to roll over. And we're not. And when you hear this kind of story, about Colin, about Mary, and who knows who else, I don't care what kind of pressure they [the NRA] apply, if this can save one life, it's worthwhile. The full video is below.
The above list of pending legislation is in addition to what transpired in 2009 and 2010. In February, my fellow Delaware bloggers and I met with Governor Markell for his latest "Blogger Roundtable," in which he discussed his Administration's past accomplishments and the current legislative session.
Jack Markell has not been afraid to raise fees and taxes when closing the budget deficit demanded it. In fact, in 2009, (and they probably don’t want this headline), the Markell Administration presided over the largest tax increase in Delaware’s history. He has sought a more equitable division of revenues between the casinos and the state. He has raised the Estate Tax. He has raised fees. All to raise money to balance the budget and avoid cutting essential services. Indeed, Markell points out that his budget provides more money for foster care, for the employment of the cognitively disabled, and more funding to hire more teachers.
So Governor Markell chaffes at suggestions that his budget requires no sacrifice from more affluent while cutting services for the poor. He also chaffes at the notion that his administration has not accomplished many progressive goals. He read off a list of those accomplishments at the end of our meeting: the eminent domain bill, the FOIA bill, the civil rights bill protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, expanding CHIP, extending Protection from Abuse Orders from one to two years, [...] protecting Medicaid from cuts so far, and he is proud of not only providing funding for 100 new teachers two years in a row but also Delaware’s success in the Race to the Top program.
Finally, we come to the budget process. In other states, we have to defend against lies that workers not only must lose pay and benefits to balance the budget, but they must lose their dignity and rights too. In other states, workers are demonized as enemies of the state. As Markell says is the video below and in his op-ed to Politico, he is not the likeliest champion of labor, only in that he is a former businessman, a former State Treasurer, and - like most Delaware politicians of any party - friendly to business. But, while confronting budget deficits every year since he took office in 2009, and while asking for concessions from state employees, whether in the form of pay cuts, furloughs, or more contributions from them towards their pensions and healthcare benefits; he still respects the state employee.
Perhaps that’s because, as governor, I’ve spent so much time visiting our state agencies and watching our people work. I often spend time there explaining my own unpopular proposals — including those to cut their pay and benefits.
Their work is often grueling, dirty and unappreciated by many. They bathe vulnerable patients in state hospitals. They plow streets in the middle of the night, when the rest of us are asleep. They keep our streets safe by dealing with the worst of our society. They help kids learn — even when those kids haven’t eaten since they last left school, haven’t bathed in a week or have come to school from a shelter.
Yes, we are in a bad way when it is revolutionary to even respect your workers, and to allow them to organize and speak. But in Delaware, it is still considered regressive to deny the same to workers, even in a business friendly state like Delaware. And that, in this day and age, is a small victory.
Are all the pieces of legislation and actions taken by Governor Markell's administration everything Progressive could want in terms of policy? Surely not. Civil Unions is not Marriage Equality. The Medical Marijuana bill is pretty restrictive and limited, when compared to other states. Delaware could still use a more progressive tax structure (Delaware basically has a two tiered flat tax, if you make $60,000 and below, you pay one rate, and if you make over $60,000, you pay a higher rate) to increase revenue and instill fairness.
But, as I have always said in my longstanding battles with purists, I will take a half step if it is a half step in the left direction. And in Delaware, we are moving that way.