Schwartzkopf wins speaker of state House

Rehoboth's rep takes top leadership post
November 23, 2012
Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, right, was elected by House Democrats to serve as speaker of the House in the upcoming General Assembly.  Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, is shown with Gov. Jack Markell, Aug. 1 in Rehoboth Beach. BY KARA NUZBACK

Rehoboth Beach Representative Pete Schwarzkopf has been elected to the top post in the Delaware House of Representatives.

Democratic legislators, who hold the majority in both the state House and Senate, on Nov. 20 selected leaders for the coming legislative session, although the new head honchos will not be confirmed until the General Assembly convenes Tuesday, Jan. 8.

Formerly majority leader, Schwartzkopf was elected to replace retired Speaker Bob Gilligan at the closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting.

“Obviously, I have big shoes to fill, but Bob Gilligan also was a mentor and a friend. I learned a great deal working alongside and serving with him. I can only hope to continue his leadership and respect for this institution,” Schwartzkopf said.

Gilligan had served as speaker since Democrats won the House majority in 2008.

Schwartzkopf, a retired Delaware State Police captain, was first elected to the House in 2002 and has served as majority leader for the past four years.

After the 2010 U.S. Census was released, Schwartzkopf led the 2011 House redistricting process. Schwartzkopf also sponsored a measure last year to clarify that Delaware sheriffs do not have arrest powers.

In a Nov. 15 interview, Schwartzkopf said if elected speaker, he would schedule a hearing on whether to allow slot machines in veterans’ associations.  After police announced a crack down on gambling at veterans’ associations in Delaware, Schwartzkopf urged police to hold off on enforcing the law until the General Assembly convened.

In a statement after the Nov. 20 vote, Schwartzkopf said, “Our first task as leadership is going to be to make sure we have strong committee chairs and a cohesive caucus. We have a young caucus, which is exciting, but it means we also have to come together as a group so we can continue the good work we have been doing for the last four years in moving our state forward.”

Five new legislators were elected this year to join the Democratic Caucus, all from Kent and New Castle counties. New legislators will be formally sworn in to office in January.

At the annual organizational meeting, members of the Majority Caucus also elected Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, to replace Schwartzkopf as majority leader and Rep. John Viola, D-Newark, to serve as majority whip.

Longhurst served as majority whip for the past four years; she was first elected in 2004. Viola is a former chairman of the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels and Revenue and Finance committees. He was first elected in 1998.

House Democrats also discussed the committee process and submitted committee requests for the upcoming session. Announcement of committee assignments and chairs has not yet been scheduled.

Senate Democrats also named new leaders.  At its Nov. 20 meeting, the Senate Majority Caucus selected Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, to serve as president pro tempore. The pro tem oversees the Senate by making committee assignments and assigning legislation to committees.

Blevins would be the second woman to serve as Delaware's President Pro Tempore and the first woman to hold the position in more than 60 years.  She succeeds former Pro Tem Tony DeLuca, who lost the Sept. 11 Democratic primary to Newark attorney Bryan Townsend who went on to win the seat.

“I’m tremendously honored to have been selected by my caucus to become pro tem,” Blevins said. “We have some big challenges ahead of us in the coming year, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate and House as well as our other elected officials to keep Delaware on a steady course.”

Blevins was first elected to the Senate in 1990, and she has served as majority leader and majority whip.

Blevins sits on the Delaware Humane Society Board of Directors, and she sponsored legislation last session to limit dog tethering.  She has also worked to protect victims of domestic violence in the state.

Sen. David McBride, D-Hawks Nest, was elected to replace Blevins as Senate majority leader.  McBride was elected to the House in 1978 and elected to the Senate in 1980.  He is a longtime member of the Joint Finance Committee, which writes the state’s budget.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill taking over for a leader as effective as Sen. Blevins has been,” McBride said. “I hope to continue her work of keeping the caucus focused and working together on issues that are important to our constituents and the state.”

Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, was selected to continue in her current position. Henry was first elected to the Senate in 1994.  “I’m honored that my colleagues have seen fit to return me as majority whip,” Henry said. “I hope to repay that vote of confidence by continuing to work hard with them in the coming session.”

The full House and Senate must vote to formalize its leaders after the General Assembly convenes.

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