In Dover, protesters rally for reopening

Citizens protest shutdown, demand easing of restrictions
May 1, 2020

There wasn’t a whole lotta love for Gov. John Carney May 1 as more than 300 residents voiced their anger over a shutdown since March that is strangling small businesses.

“We have an excessive quarantine, to say the least,” said Lisa McCulley, organizer of the event. “Fifty days ago today [Carney] declared a state of emergency, and I think we have all been very patient.”

More than a hundred cars, many decked out with signs and decorations against Carney’s order closing many businesses and banning gatherings of more than 10, rounded Legislative Hall at noon with horns honking.

Rob Arlett, former Sussex County councilman and a host of the event, said he got involved with the Delawareans Against Excessive Quarantine because Carney is forgetting about small business owners.

“The whole goal was always to flatten the curve to ensure our hospitals and healthcare facilities would not be overtaken. We never got there in Delaware, so what are we doing? As 19 other governors are opening up their states today, ours becomes more restrictive,” he said. “It’s unnecessary and unlawful.”

Bill Sharp of Ellendale said it’s unconstitutional to shut down business, even in a state of emergency. “They have no lawful authority. It’s not in the constitution,” he said.

Holding a sign that read, “Gov. Carney & State Workers Get Paid, We Get Locked Up,” Dave Kenton of Milford said he is mad about the inequity of the situation. Kenton, a real estate broker who owns Silver Lake Realty, said his business has been at a standstill since the shutdown.

“If we’re not in business by Memorial Day, it’s going to be a riot,” he said.

Dawn Thompson of Selbyville works for a travel agency but hasn’t worked since March 18. She said it’s unfair that big box stores are allowed to stay open while smaller businesses have been forced to close. “I’ve been asking for weeks, and there’s no plan,” she said of the state reopening.

Lewes resident Larry Mayo said he is in the construction business - considered an essential business under the state of emergency - but his customers and income are drying up because customers are scared to have workers in their home at this time. “I’m starting now to not be able to pay bills,” he said.

Speaking to the crowd, Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, said he supports House Bill 330 introduced by Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, that would limit the powers of a governor during a state of emergency.

“I’m afraid of losing my constitutional rights,” he said.

Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, said if small businesses close in Delaware, chances are the state will raise taxes on everyone to make up for lost revenue.

As a small business owner who runs an auction, Wilson said he has been closed for 47 days, and all his employees are on unemployment now.

“We need to do what’s right for our communities, for our churches,” he said. “It’s time that we speak out. The governor probably wishes I wasn’t here today but guess what, I’m here not for Dave Wilson, but for every citizen in the state of Delaware and every small business person … If the governor doesn’t want to see me standing on the green in Dover, open small businesses and everybody have an essential business in Delaware.”

Carney responds

Carney addressed the protesters during his May 1 press briefing. A reporter noted that many protesters were not wearing mandated face coverings or practicing social distancing.

“They have free speech rights, but they do not have the right to put others at risk,” Carney said. “As governor, I'm not going to pick fights. I'd rather work together. This is not a time to let up. I worry when I see what some of my colleague governors are doing.”

Jane Brady, chair of the Delaware GOP, published a press release April 30 on behalf of the Republican party. In it, she said, small businesses are being unfairly treated by the governor’s state-of-emergency order. 

“One size does not fit all, and these policies go further than any government has a right to,” she wrote. “Whether intended or not, the implications for small business and the impact of these policies are dire.” 

She cited the unfairness of allowing big box stores to remain open when many locally owned small businesses offer the same items.

“So many people who work in small businesses have lost their jobs, and in the long run, it may have been largely unnecessary,” she wrote. “Policies currently prohibit choices that would assist small businesses in Delaware, such as shopping by appointment and curbside pickup.”

GOP lawmakers support reopening

A group of 15 Republican representatives also felt compelled to speak up, writing a letter to the editor and to the governor April 30. In the letter, they say more than 75,000 Delawareans have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15, and many have yet to receive a check. 

“With the lives and livelihoods of our citizens under threat, we can no longer remain silent,” they wrote. 

The Republicans say more government aid is not the answer, and that enhanced unemployment benefits, government loans and grants do not replace a functioning economy. 

“Reengaging Delaware’s economy needs to be a top consideration, yet [the governor’s] restart plan lacks any sense of urgency or predictability,” the Republicans wrote in a letter signed by Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro; Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown; Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton; Bryan Shupe, R-Milford; Rep. Ronald Gray, R-Selbyville; Rep. Jesse Vanderwende, R-Bridgeville; Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford; Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel; Rep. Charles Postles; R-Frederica; Rep. Shannon Morris, R-Wyoming; Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Dover South; Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton; Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa; Rep. Mike Ramond, R-Middle Run Valley; and Rep. Mike Smith, R-Newark. 

During his May 1 press briefing, Carney also addressed the letter from Republican legislators. He said most of the legislators demanding an ease of restrictions are from parts of Sussex County where the biggest spike in positive COVID-19 cases is occurring.

“I don't agree to ‘let's go now’,” he said. “Letting up, especially in western Sussex, is not the right signal.”

Reporters Ron MacArthur and Nick Roth contributed to this report. 

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