Lopez shows independence with gun background vote

April 23, 2013

Last spring, I first sat down with Ernie Lopez, then a candidate running to be the Republican nominee for the newly formed District 6 Senate seat.

He was up against Glen Urquhart, the former Sussex County Republican Committee chair who had stepped down to primary Lopez. Urquhart was running to the right of Lopez, not a bad strategy in a county that favored Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell over the experienced but more moderate Rep. Mike Castle.

That morning Lopez invoked the names of Delaware Republican giants such as J. Caleb Boggs and Bill Roth, men who could work across the aisle. Roth, for example, would vote against his party on environmental issues.

Last week’s vote on House Bill 35, which would expand gun sale background checks, wasn’t Lopez’s first test to uphold that tradition, but it was the toughest.

The vote could hurt Lopez with the Republican faithful. It shouldn’t. The background check bill is the only one of five gun safety bills before the General Assembly that Lopez said he would support.

But there’s another reason. Republicans desperately need candidates like Lopez. The Republican bench for statewide offices is, to put it mildly, thin.

I’ve never asked Lopez about plans to run for higher office. For all I know, he could be happy representing District 6 for next five decades.

I’m just pointing out the obvious: Lopez is a politician with significant crossover appeal; the only kind of Republican with a chance to win a statewide contest.

If Republicans turn on candidates like Lopez the way they turned on Castle, they’ll only have themselves to blame if they continue coming up short in statewide elections.

Which is bad not only for the Republican Party, it’s bad for the state. Lopez himself made the point when we first spoke last spring.

“In Delaware we’ve always done things better by having parity, and right now we don’t have that,” Lopez said.

“And that’s enabled the Democratic Party to run roughshod through the state government process.”

Overall, the state would be better off with a competitive Republican Party.

But if the mood at last week’s Senate hearing about expanding background checks is any indication, Republicans like Lopez could get crucified for bucking the party. Though generally civil, the hearing roiled with emotion. One speaker told the senators that the Boston Marathon bombings should serve as a “wake-up call.” I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, but I didn’t doubt her passion.

Nevertheless, HB 35 passed the Senate 13-8.

Nationally, the NRA and its supporters might have overreached, despite their success in shooting down all gun safety bills before the U.S. Senate.

Here’s why. The NRA contends that an extension of background checks is a step toward registration, which is a step toward confiscation, which is a step toward tyranny. Speakers at last week’s hearing in Dover echoed that view.

But as Lopez pointed out in his statement about the vote, the NRA once favored expanding background checks.

Here’s NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999, in the wake of the Columbine massacre: “We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show.  No loopholes anywhere.  For anyone.”

All I can say is, Wow. LaPierre has taken a 180-degree turn. For a majority of the speakers, anyone offering such a view at last week’s hearing in Dover would have been considered the enemy.

Will the NRA’s willingness to make such wild flip-flops hurt it in the long run? I don’t know.

But I do know District 6 has a senator willing to show independence to represent his constituents.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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