Politics 2004Week of May 3


Although odds-makers in Delaware now rate Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner a cinch for re-election, this has not stopped First State Republicans from holding one of their hottest-in-memory races for their gubernatorial standard. With barely two weeks to go before the GOP holds its nominating convention at the Bay Center in Dewey Beach May 15, signs are mounting that the brawl between moderate William Swain Lee and staunch conservative Mike Protack will spill over into a primary in September. (Under party rules, the 346 convention delegates must ballot until a contender gets 50% of the vote and thus becomes its officially endorsed candidate; but any runner-up can take his case to primary voters in the fall, as Protack has repeatedly promised to do.)

And, if the current level of rhetoric and campaign frenzy is any indication, the contest will be a political rendition of Quentin Tarantino’s current screen hit Kill Bill, Volume 2, with maverick Protack “the Bride” and Lee the “Bill” she wants to polish off.

A University of Delaware graduate and former U.S. Marine captain now a Naval Reserve officer, Protack is a commercial airline pilot for Delta and a member of the Airline Pilots Association (AFL-CIO). Like fellow pilot-politicians such as former Sen. (1978-90) Gordon Humphrey (R.-N.H.) and Rep. (1980-90) Denny Smith (R-Ore.), 46-year-old Protack had much time to think about issues during “a lot of long flights” (more than 10,000 hours in 15 different aircraft). As he recalled to me, “One of the things I thought about was with government spending more than ever per student, not one single public school in Delaware has 70% of its students passing the State Testing Program and only 25% of fourth graders are proficient readers — and not one teacher has lost his job. That made me leery about what government can do.”

It was his irritation with the performance of public education, and the failure of both Minner and numerous Republican high-ups to embrace the no-new-taxes issue, that prompted Protack to tuck away his wings and don the pinstripes and blue shirt of a candidate for governor. His agenda is one of inventive conservatism: calling on all state officials, including legislators, to curtail unnecessary out-of-state travel funded by the taxpayers; lower the personal income tax and pass credits for job creation. He wants to overhaul the educational system by creating what he calls “accountability scholarships” that would provide $5,000 to pupils who fail tests, thus permitting them to choose from about 80% of the schools in the state to acquire needed remedial skills.

As the convention approaches, the Republican contest has flared up over social issues. Former Superior Court Judge Lee was once a favorite of conservatives as leader of the state Reagan-for-President forces back in 1976, but has since moved decidedly to port — he now takes the pro-abortion stand; while Protack, a past chairman of the Delaware Life PAC, speaks of his desire to use the governorship as a bully pulpit on behalf of the unborn. Minner, who was actually endorsed by Delaware Right to Life while a state legislator in four elections from 1978-84, now styles herself as “firmly pro-choice” and one who believes that the issue “is one that should be left to a woman, her family, and her doctor.”

Even more incendiary is the issue of homosexual marriage. Citing his flights abroad and observations of homosexual marriages in European countries, Protack came out strongly in favor of President Bush’s call for a constitutional ban on gay matrimony. In response, Lee said of Protack, “I do not consider him an opponent [and] I am not going to respond to his little challenges,” said Lee, but he eventually told the Delaware State News that he opposes homosexual marriage but could support civil unions, which confer the same legal rights and responsibilities that married heterosexual couples have. Of the constitutional ban, Lee told the State News, “I’d like to think we don’t need that amendment, but it may be needed if judges and mayors continue to ignore the law.” Gov. Minner dismissed the constitutional amendment as an election-year political move by Bush and instead said the state must first enact HB 99 to outlaw discrimination against gays in employment, housing, and accommodations.

“[T]hen, Minner told reporters. “it will be the time to explore how those in the gay community who make a lifelong commitment to each other could obtain the same benefits and rights as those who are married,” Lee has said the bill needs to be “tweaked” before he could back it. Protack is fiercely against 99.

Inevitably, Lee and his supporters voice their desire to go head-on with Minner and plead that Protack not push what they say would be a destructive primary against them. Replied the conservative insurgent: “My only thoughts could be if it is such a treasonous move, then why would we ever support someone who puts his own self-interest above e the party interest?” — an obvious reference to what happened four years ago when Lee, denied the party’s endorsement for governor at the convention, took his challenge to a primary against convention-backed John Burris, who edged Lee by 46 votes.


With all the attention focused on Rep. Pat Toomey’s challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter’s renomination in Pennsylvania, it was sometimes hard to believe that there were heated Republican primaries for other offices. But there were, among them. . .

After Toomey: A “downgrade” will be the result for conservatives if Republicans hang on to the 15th District vacated by Toomey to run for the Senate. In contrast to Toomey (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%), the GOP nominee is State Sen. Charles Dent, who takes decidedly left-of-center positions on abortion, gun control, and most other cultural issues. Dent won the primary with about 55% over two conservatives — prosecutor Brian O’Neel and former Lehigh City Councilman Ed Pascuzzo. The Democratic nominee is businessman Joseph Driscoll, who has so far collected only two donations from within the Allentown-based district.

After Hoeffel: One of the open Democratic districts that Republicans have high hopes of capturing this fall is Pennsylvania’s 13th District (Northeast Philadelphia-Montgomery County), which incumbent Joseph Hoeffel relinquished to become the Democratic nominee for the Senate. For the second election in a row, the Republican nominee will be ophthalmologist Melissa Brown, a moderate pro-abortion candidate who defeated two opponents. The Democratic nominee is far-left State Sen. Allyson Schwartz.

Go, Paterno: The most crowded Republican U.S. House primary was run in the 17th District, which is considered marginal two years after Democratic Rep. Tim Holden was re-elected with about 2% of the vote. Topping the GOP field of seven candidates was the heir to possibly the most revered name in the Keystone State — Scott Paterno, Derry Township lawyer and son of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. The 31-year-old Paterno, who won with 27% of the vote, had come under heavy fire from opponents for not having strong enough ties to the district and not having his car registered locally. But his father’s almost God-like stature enabled him to fend off the charges.

Blood Feud: Although there were pundits and pols who dubbed the Republican primary for state attorney general a clash over abortion between Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor (pro-life) and former U.S. Attorney (pro-abortion) Tom Corbett, their bout was, more accurately, a proxy for the blood feud between two GOP titans who despise one another: Montgomery County GOP Chairman Frank Bartle, a strong Castor booster, and Republican National Committeeman and wealthy chocolate magnate Bob Asher, who orchestrated the state GOP’s official endorsement for Corbett and has donated more than $100,000 to the candidate with the same name as the dashing “space cadet” of radio and early TV thrillers.

Castor slammed Asher for his 1986 conviction for participating in an alleged bribery scheme. Castor’s TV spots charged that Corbett’s campaign “is bankrolled by a convicted felon who served time for political corruption.” Corbett fired back at Castor’s $500,000 contribution from former Secretary of Transportation and Union Pacific chief executive officer Drew Lewis. Lewis, whose years-long battle with alcoholism had been well publicized, was arrested on his second drunk-driving charge in ’01, lost his driver’s license for two years and underwent seven months treatment for alcohol addiction. Corbett charged a conflict of interest on the part of Lewis’s next-door neighbor and benefactor Castor, saying that, had he been district attorney, he would have sought jail-time for the former Reagan Cabinet official and second-time offender. (One day before the balloting, Lewis sent Castor’s campaign another $100,000.)

Corbett won with 52% of the vote, but after such a bitter battle, now faces an uphill fight against Democratic nominee James Eisenhower, distant relative of Dwight D. Eisenhower and chairman of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.


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