Lopez finds partisanship worse than he expected
Here’s how Sen. Ernie Lopez’s day was shaping up: breakfast at the Lewes Chamber of Commerce; breakfast - yes, a second one - at the Cape Henlopen Senior Center; home to catch up on some work; a work lunch with state officials and then on to the Delaware State Fair, where he was working under his 4-H hat from 3 to 11 p.m. at the livestock auction.
He said, though, that he had a window from 1 to 1:30 when he could talk to me. I took it.
To be clear, Lopez denied eating two breakfasts. “I just had fruit at the first one,” he said, laughing, referring to the chamber breakfast.
Lopez, a Republican, recently finished his first legislative session after being elected in November from the newly formed Sixth Senate District, which takes in Rehoboth, Lewes and Milton.
“It was an amazing, humbling experience,” Lopez said. “It was an honor to serve.”
His biggest surprise? “It was a little bit more partisan than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I did the best that I could to bridge those gaps, and I was proud to see that I was a go-to senator to get things passed.”
That partisanship, no doubt, was heightened by the social issues that came before this year’s General Assembly: death penalty, marriage equality and various gun bills.
The Sixth District is an interesting one. It’s a microcosm for Sussex County, tending to be more progressive to the east, more conservative to the west. Representing the district is something of a tightrope act, and Lopez walked it like one of the Flying Wallendas.
Here’s how he voted on four bills. On what would likely be considered the progressive side, he voted in favor of ending the death penalty and for criminal history background checks for the sale of firearms.
(The death penalty bill died in the House, where it was tabled in committee. The background check bill passed both House and Senate and was signed May 8 by Gov. Jack Markell.)
On the conservative side, he voted against both the marriage equality bill and another gun bill that was designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
(The marriage equality bill allows people of the same gender to marry. It passed the House and Senate and was signed May 7 by Markell. The gun bill sailed through the House 40-1 but was tripped up in the Senate 13-6, a defeat made possible by some Democratic votes.)
All of these votes are sure to make some people angry, including some in his own party who may want to challenge him to a primary.
Lopez understands that’s how the game is played.
“I had a breakfast meeting prior the to the election with John Schroeder, a former state representative, and he said, ‘Ernie, after you vote, you need to be able to look your voters in the eye and tell them why you voted the way you did.’”
For the background check bill, Lopez put out a statement before the vote. That was the issue that resulted in a Hudson Management sign on Route 1 warning Lopez to vote against background checks.
Lopez said he did indeed receive responses from the sign, but that most them were positive. He admitted, however, that it was his single toughest vote of the session. On the death penalty issue, Lopez went on the radio the day after to explain his vote.
Hopefully, some of the social issues are behind us. From Lopez’s description, social issues were so pervasive they took time away from other challenges facing the state.
According to Lopez, even business lobbyists buttonholed him to talk about social issues.
“They weren’t there to talk to us about issues in regards to their business and what they need to grow,” Lopez said. “They were talking about social issues.”
Which is odd, considering the economic and financial problems we face.
Looking ahead, Lopez said, “We are going to be working together to find more means for stable economic growth and lines of revenue for our state.”
He said the state is too dependent on escheat funds and other forms of revenues that are “liquid.” Escheat funds come from abandoned property, of which Delaware has been receiving a lot because it’s the home for so many corporations.
But it’s not the most stable source of income, and for fiscal 2013 it accounted for 13.6 percent of state revenues. Lottery revenues, which includes money from casinos, accounted for 6.7 percent.
Meanwhile, Lopez said, the state isn’t getting enough money from large corporations such as DuPont. “Not everybody is paying their fair share,” he said.
That means we don’t have enough money for improving roads in Sussex County, which he said will be a priority for him and the entire Sussex delegation. But that issue will have to be addressed a future column.