State legislators are tossing around a few options for increased representation on Sussex County Council these days, although it remains to be seen which version will find its way through both houses of the Delaware General Assembly.
Sen. F. Gary Simpson (18th District) has sponsored SB 100, which would provide for two new at-large, or voted on countywide, council seats (bringing the total to seven). That bill, introduced late last month, is presently in Senate Executive Committee.
In the House, local Rep. Gerald Hocker (38th District) has sponsored HB 143, and co-sponsored HB 170.
HB 143 calls for the genesis of two additional county council seats by 2008 — not at-large, but from geographical voting districts — following a redistricting in 2007. Hocker had originally drafted that bill to follow the 2010 Census, as is traditional, with new seats coming online in 2012.
Constituents asked for an accelerated timeline, and he agreed to make the change.
The bill passed the House 34-4 on May 12 — with three of the four opposing votes coming from Sussex County legislators — Reps. J. Benjamin Ewing, 35th, Clifford “Biff” Lee, 40th and Tina Fallon, 39th.
According to Joan Deaver of grassroots political activism group Citizens for a Better Sussex (CBS), “I don’t want Hocker’s bill — I’d rather have nothing.”
As her colleague, Allen Ide, put it, the new map for the additional council seats would be drafted by the powers that be, and therefore possibly “gerrymandered” to favor the conservative Democratic status quo.
To Deaver and Ide’s thinking, such a move would turn any gains for the newly and heavily populated eastern county into a wash, and yet legislators would be able to look back and say, “We gave you the extra representation you asked for — what else do you want.”
However, Hocker said he was unsure if even the modified HB 143 would make it through the Senate, as written.
“I said I’d introduce something for them, and I wanted to do something that at least had a slim chance of passing, and now they’re trying to fight it,” Hocker said. Some of his constituents might think anything he introduced would pass automatically, he said, but that just wasn’t the case.
Rep. Joe Booth (37th District) introduced HB 170 on May 10, and it rests in the House Housing & Community Affairs Committee. Like its Senate counterpart, HB 170 calls for two additional at-large council seats.
The CBS was looking for every seat to be voted on countywide, but Deaver said she could settle for this legislation.
Hocker said he’d agreed to, and would, support a bill with at-large seats, even though he’d declined to introduce one himself. “I just don’t see that kind of bill going anywhere,” he explained. He said his HB 143 still stood the best chance, and even there, the 2008 timeline wasn’t a done deal.
In co-sponsoring HB 170, he said he’d shown willingness to compromise between zero at-large and completely at-large.
“We need change,” Hocker said. “I’m trying to do all I can for increased representation.” Now that both bills were out there, Hocker said he wouldn’t favor one over the other.
With a Democrat-controlled county council and a Democrat-controlled Senate, he said there would likely be a tendency to avoid all three bills until the 2010 Census made change inevitable.
However, Hocker did say he’d met with (Democratic) Senate Majority Leader Thurman Adams (19th District) prior to introducing HB 143, and Adams had told him he wouldn’t shoot it down (not that he said he’d support it).