Serving in Delaware’s General Assembly should be more a form of community service than a career and should be guided by the core values of honesty and integrity. Every member of the General Assembly has taken the oath of office in which they “swear always to place the public interest above any special or personal interest.”
In my third year of serving as a Delaware State Senator, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that many legislators are primarily interested in political advancement and self preservation. In fact, I define a politician as one who places their personal political self preservation above the best interests of the citizens. Examples of this protection of politicians’ self interest include the current redistricting process, legislators doing favors for the financial reward of being placed on a paying Senate committee, placement of family and friends in state and government funded positions, and legislative decisions being primarily based on what will get one re-elected.
In my current and past experiences as a practicing physician and in the business community, decisions are often based upon feedback from many people around the table to best leverage the different backgrounds and areas of expertise. The approach is much different in Dover where decisions often are based on political influence, favors, the impact on the next election, and who has power.
I remember in my first month serving in 2009, I was approached by a staff member charged with getting Senate sponsors to sign onto a bill. When I asked the person to explain the bill and to provide supporting data for the bill, I was laughed at and told, “Senator, that’s not how things are done here…people just sign on and don’t ask for that sort of information.” I replied, “that’s not how I do business….I expect supporting information and data….come back when you have that.” He never returned.
As one of the new Senators, I am working to implement operational and institutional changes in how our state conducts its business. I have introduced Senate Joint Resolution Five (SJR5) that establishes a Governor-appointed Independent counsel to evaluate state services and to create a five-year plan to restructure and reorganize our state government. The counsel should evaluate issues such as prioritizing state services, statewide operations consolidation, and divesting of state real estate.
With respect to improving the efficiencies and the quality of our public schools, I have introduced Senate Joint Resolution Four (SJR4) that will establish a task force to evaluate and recommend options to decrease the number of school districts. The objective is to drive more education dollars into the classroom to benefit students and teachers, while decreasing the bloated education administrative infrastructure.
It is important to enable new people with new ideas the opportunity to serve in our General Assembly to engage in thoughtful discussion and debate. Delaware’s legislature is intended to be a citizen body, in which people of many different backgrounds and areas of expertise can serve. Political office is not intended to be a lifetime career in which legislators can build a rich pension and establish connections to personally benefit family and friends.
Career politicians should not dominate our legislature. We need to eliminate the system that we have of a spoils system that favors seniority over good ideas. Therefore, I have introduced Senate Bill 61 (SB61) that limits lawmakers to twelve years in the same elected position. Unlike other states, this bill would not impose lifetime term limits, but would break up the long streak of incumbency that keeps people in office so long and subsequently leads to cronyism and corruption.
Perhaps my views are a bit naïve. But, I expect our government to operate with the same level of expertise and efficiencies that are expected in the private sector. I am committed to pushing hard for positive change in how our government functions and not just to keep a seat warm. I also believe that legislators have the duty and obligation to bring ethical failures to the attention of the appropriate authorities for investigation, regardless of party affiliation and loyalties. Those that condone unethical behavior, or choose to ignore this behavior, are just as guilty as if they had committed the action themselves.
This past year, when challenging the Senate’s status quo and legislators’ sense of entitlement, one of the senior senators lectured to me: “Senator, you are too green…you don’t understand how things work here in Dover.” I paused and gently responded: “Well, perhaps I do. And I don’t like it.”