New lawmakers are taking the lead roles in both the State Senate and the State House following a voluntary and not-so voluntary exit for the former heads of both chambers.
House Speaker Robert Gilligan announced his retirement earlier this year after serving in the State House since 1972, clearing the way for new House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat representing Rehoboth. The full House still must approve the selection made by the Democratic caucus Tuesday night.
"The process basically is a Democratic process just like we do on the floor," Schwartzkopf said of the closed door meeting that led to his selection as Speaker. "We never know really what the full count is. Usually what we do, and what we did tonight, is as soon as someone has the votes required and necessary to win, we stop counting."
Schwartzkopf says the major issue facing state lawmakers this year is how to balance the state budget. "What we're going to with the taxes depends a lot on what the revenue forecast is. As [the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council] meets and they come in with the estimates, and we see whether we can make up that revenue or not make up that revenue." The next DEFAC meeting is scheduled for December 17.
With Schwartzkopf moving to Speaker, State Rep. Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) will move into his former position as House Majority Leader. State Rep. John Viola (D-Newark) will be the new Majority Whip.
On the other side of Legislative Hall, Senate President Pro-Tem Anthony DeLuca's loss in the Democratic Primary to Bryan Townsend created a vacancy in the Senate's top spot. That spot will be filled by Elsmere Democrat Patricia Blevins. "We have a lot of important work to do, and I'm really honored that my caucus asked me to do this," Blevins said.
The challenges for Senate remain the same as they've been for the past several years, Blevins said. "We're going to have to look very closely at revenues and taxes and budgets and what we can cut and where we need to be."
State Senator David McBride (D-Hawks Nest) will take over Blevins' role as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) will retain her position.