Newark senator starts political season in Sussex

September 26, 2017

Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark-Bear, recently authored a column that appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of the Cape Gazette. In the piece, he took issue with comments attributed to me regarding legislation he previously sponsored that sought Delaware to make a "sanctuary state."

Sen. Townsend's Senate Bill 60 (148th General Assembly) would have made it illegal for any Delaware law enforcement agency to "detain any individual solely on the basis of any immigration detainer or administrative immigration warrant."

Termed the TRUST Initiative, it would have further prevented Delaware authorities from "communicating an individual's release information or contact information, after the individual becomes eligible for release from custody." The initiative specified seven provisions that would make an illegal immigrant eligible to be freed from custody, including release from prison after the completion of a sentence. This bill can be accessed online using the bill tracking tool on the General Assembly's website.

I believe I have an obligation to make myself as available as I can to the people I serve. One of the ways I attempt to satisfy this duty is by holding a coffee meeting with constituents on the second Tuesday of each month starting at 7 a.m. at Surf Bagel near Lewes. At the recent September meeting, I was asked about the status of Delaware's sanctuary state legislation. I said I thought it was a dead issue since the bill was not considered by the 148th General Assembly and has not yet been introduced in the current legislative session. I also repeated some of the objections I had to it.

Those comments were apparently shared with Sen. Townsend, who did not attend the meeting. An attorney by profession, Sen. Townsend should know better than to accept secondhand information as fact without first confirming it – something he could have easily done by calling me.

Sadly, instead of reaching out to me directly, the senator wrote a 723-word rant which he shared with the Cape Gazette. Although space considerations will not allow me to address the senator's self-serving narrative point-by-point, I feel compelled to note some of its more obvious flaws.

First, contrary to the senator's claims, I did not say he never spoke to me about that bill. In fact, we discussed it on more than one occasion. What I stated at the meeting was that he did not speak to me about the measure before he introduced it.

As a former Delaware State Police trooper with 24 years of experience, colleagues will often ask for my input on law enforcement bills while they are being drafted. I am humbled by the value these men and women place on my assistance, and I have always done my best to help in such situations.

Sen. Townsend also misrepresented what I said about an incident in which a Syrian national attempted to illegally enter the country by swimming from a freighter making its way up the Delaware River. I do not know what motivated this individual's highly unusual and covert form of entry, but had Sen. Townend's proposal been law at the time, Delaware authorities may have been barred from detaining this man and contacting federal officials. At that point, the only law he had broken was immigration related.

I concede that this is an exceptional example, but I think it is a valid one for emphasizing how legislation can have unanticipated consequences when applied to real-world circumstances.

More to the point, as noted earlier, Sen. Townsend's bill would have prohibited Delaware authorities from contacting federal officials when an illegal immigrant was being released from prison for an offense he had committed here.

At 36 years old, Sen. Townsend holds degrees from the University of Delaware, Yale Law School, and the University of Cambridge in England. He has also studied at Peking University in China. Last year, Sen. Townsend unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress, placing second in a six-candidate primary. He undoubtedly believes he is destined for bigger things than representing the 11th Senatorial District, and he is probably right.

I am disappointed that Sen. Townsend chose to further his political ambition with a column making unwarranted accusations about my integrity. Such transparently manipulative partisan rhetoric should be beneath a man of Sen. Townsend's standing, but his actions have proven otherwise.

Rep. Steve Smyk is a Republican representing Lewes and Milton.


  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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