On Friday, speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, choked up several times as he announced that he would be stepping down and that Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, will succeed him as the new speaker.
It will be the first time a woman has been elected the speaker of the House in Delaware.
With Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long presiding over the Senate, it also will be the first time that women have presided over both legislative chambers at one time.
Schwartzkopf called it a historic night for the state.
Longhurst thanked Schwartzkop for the attention he had paid to her and for singling her out for leadership.
She broke down into tears and said, “I love you, Pete. You’re a great man.”
The House recessed to have dinner and returned to pass House Resolution 25, officially naming Longhurst as speaker.
After House Resolution 25 passed unanimously, Schwartzkopf called her to the dias amid booming applause. As she took the oath, lots of cameras were aimed at her.
Schwartzkopf said he has a gift for her, a gavel.
“It’s the hammer that Gov. Ruth Ann Minner had,” he told Longhurst, when Minner was lieutenant governor.
“Congratulations and carry that thing and beat everybody in the head with it,” he said, to great laughter.
In accepting the job, Longhurst pointed out that the Delaware legislature was 300 years old, but it was only a century ago that women won the right to vote.
The House will now for the first time have all-female leadership, including Majority Leader Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle, the first person of color elected to leadership, as majority leader and Rep. Kerri Evelyn Harris, the first LGBTQ member of House leadership, as minority whip.
Minor-Brown delighted in being the first to call Longhurst “Madam Speaker,” and led the House members in picking up a white rose and handing it to Longhurst with a hug.
Minor-Brown also noted that as she was being elected majority leader, the U.S. Supreme Court was announcing its decision to end affirmative action at colleges and universities.
“But even in this historic moment, as we celebrate the first woman speaker and a majority-minority leadership team,” Minor-Brown said, “we can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re living through the second wave of the civil rights movement … But while those challenges lie ahead, we know that there’s hope. And this right here in this chamber gives us hope.”
Harris said the legislature does something every session to make Delaware more equitable.
“Delaware is starting to heal the wrongs of this nation,” Harris said. “Every time a general assembly is elected into office, over the last several years, we’ve seen change. Every time there’s a leadership vote, every time we pass legislation that protects women’s health care, that makes sure that there are more civil rights, to make sure that people are getting a second chances when they’ve made a mistake, that makes sure that we are a nation of the people, a state of the people.”
Schwartzkopf’s move had been rumored since the start of the session, and word began to leak out publicly this week.
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He said Friday that all of the rumors about why he was leaving were wrong. He was not running for governor. He was not forced out because he did something wrong. As a former state trooper, he said he was not taking a job with the new Police Standards Commission.
Schwartzkopf said his wife had a health scare last year and he promised her that he would only serve one more year as speaker to devote time to family.
A little levity
The evening included a little levity.
When Schwartzkopf realized he was introducing his last bill, he referred to Richard Puffer, chief clerk of the House, as “Puff Daddy,” before Puffer read in the last bill. Later, when Longhurst had trouble getting the microphone to her height, he leaned over and said, “Puff Daddy to the rescue.”
Minority Leader Michael Ramone, R-Pike Creek, joked that if Puffer was “Puff Daddy,” then Schwartzkopf was “Puff Pete.”
Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Townsend/Hartly, signaled that he wanted to speak, and Schwartzkopf instantly responded: “You didn’t write a poem, did you?”
No, Spiegelman said, then recounted a story of how he and Schwartzkopf yelled at each other over a bill for 35 minutes, from Spiegelman’s house to the parking lot of Leg Hall, before both busting into laughs about the call.
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Several members of Schwartzkopf family were in the House as he made the announcement, including his wife Carol, brothers, daughter, brother-in-law, and soon-to-be son-in-law.
Many of the representatives praised him.
Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, described how Schwartzkopf showed up at the hospital when Dukes had a heart attacked, forcing his way into the emergency room by telling the staff he was family.
Rep. Stell Parker Selby, D-Milton, spoke about the history of the speakership and about how Schwartzkopf has helped mentor her throughout her time as a representative.
Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, was among the many who said that Schwartzkopf did a good job uniting representatives, allowing all to have a say and raising the level of leadership.
Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, was holding back tears as she said that Schwartzkopf has been a mentor, a brother, and like family to her.
Longhurst ended the session by saying that they have shattered the glass ceiling.
“So these young girls beside me and the kids who visit our chamber will, for the first time ever, be seeing themselves represented in these roles,” Longhurst said. “Understanding that these doors are now open and that this glass ceiling has been not broken but shattered.”
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