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What’s New

Little is being said about state redistricting, despite calls for transparency

From: Delaware Live

Delaware’s state House and Senate districts must be redrawn and approved by Nov. 7, but legislative leaders have yet to announce a date to convene a special session to vote on the new district lines.

In August, a broad coalition of community organizations sent an open letter calling on Democratic House and Senate leadership to ensure a fair, transparent, nondiscriminatory, and politically impartial process.

On Thursday, one of the letter’s signatories, Common Cause of Delaware, said in a press release, “One month without any response from state leaders has passed since Common Cause of Delaware and a broad coalition of community organizations sent a letter asking for a fair and transparent redistricting process.”

Common Cause of Delaware is now demanding that state legislators “start communicating with the public about this year’s redistricting cycle.”

“Redistricting will impact our elections for the next decade and the people of Delaware deserve to have a meaningful say in the process,” said Claire Snyder-Hall, director of Common Cause of Delaware. “A completely transparent and public redistricting process will ensure we draw fair maps that benefit our communities, not the politicians. It’s time for state leaders to come forward with details about this year’s redistricting process.” Read more.

SBA Administrator highlights federal assistance and ongoing struggle for businesses in Wilmington

 From: Delaware Public Media The head of the Small Business Administration visited Wilmington Monday to highlight programs to help businesses survive the pandemic.

SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman joined Sen. Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester at Stitch House Brewery on Market Street.

The brewery was one of about 50,000 Delaware businesses that received financial help from the SBA during the pandemic.

Rob Snowberger is one of Stitch House’s owners. He says the business got two rounds of PPP loans, a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

But Snowberger hopes the federal government will offer more low-interest loans for businesses in the future—because he’s not sure how commercial lenders will react to the fact that his business debt doubled during the pandemic.

“Ultimately, we don’t know what the consequences [will be of what] we did borrow to stay alive — what the consequence of that will be on our balance sheet,” he said. “Not only that, but when you have negative numbers for so long, you’re not exactly bankable.” Read more

Unprecedented Explosion of State Spending Leaves Taxpayers Out

From: A Better Delaware With the state budget running a nearly $1.2 billion surplus largely because of massive federal handouts for COVID relief, you might have thought lawmakers in Dover would give some money back to hard-working taxpayers. Instead, they did what politicians do best – spent it.

The record-setting capital budget (also known as the bond bill) was nearly twice the size the previous record. Tucked inside is an enormous $70 million Community Redevelopment Fund. The Community Redevelopment funds are earmarked for lawmakers’ pet projects.

Now, Delaware Live reports that legislators departed from past practice and failed to provide the itemized listing of these projects, and they passed it without even knowing what was in the bill!

But this year, because of the amount of funds available and the number of organizations that applied, the total $70 million fund was listed as one line-item under the assurance that the list of recipients would be made public once finalized.

Both the House and Senate passed the budget, and Gov. John Carney signed it without the list.

It reminds us of Nancy Pelosi’s famous remark that “we have to pass the bill [Obamacare] so that you can find out what is in it.” One lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton) called out the process:

“This year proved that the bond structure was ill-equipped to handle the amount of money we had. What this has resulted in is essentially a gentlemen’s agreement with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on the line,” said Spiegelman. “This is the very definition of pork-barrel-spending, where legislators have this big pile of cash and they’re forced to play a game of ‘come and grab it’ for these funds.”

But his call for transparency and thrift was met with scorn and derision by Sen. Nicole Poore (D-New Castle):

“Rep. Spiegelman might choose not to take any money for his district if that’s how he feels about it,” Poore said.

Maybe next time Dover finds itself with more money than it can spend without cutting procedural corners, they might consider just returning some of it to Delaware’s overtaxed working families.

Democrats say they won’t tolerate lawmaker’s slur, but have not asked him to resign

From: Delaware Online 

The Delaware Democratic Party said that anti-Asian slurs and other sexual language used by state Rep. Gerald Brady in an email  “will not be tolerated,” but stopped short of demanding that he resign.

The outcry comes after a June 27 email sent by Brady was shared with Delaware Online/The News Journal. In the email, Brady referred to sex workers as “chink broads.”

“Is the dude basically saying, if we provide free [sex acts] for Uncle Pervie, there will be few rapes and few chink broads will be shipped in CONEX containers to the Port of Wilmington??” Brady wrote from his official government email account.

The email was intended to be sent to a private citizen Brady knows, said Drew Volturo, a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus. Instead, Brady replied to a sex workers’ advocate who had originally emailed him to discuss legislation intended to protect sex workers.

“Misogynistic, anti-Asian language has no place in our Party and calls into question the integrity of any leader,” Betsy Maron, chair of the Delaware Democratic Party, said in a written statement. “No apology will rectify the fact that Representative Gerald Brady felt comfortable enough to use such hateful language behind closed doors.”

When asked if the party was calling on Brady to step down, Democratic spokeswoman Sarah Fulton said no.

“If Gerald Brady doesn’t want to resign, that’s something that he is going to have to deal with when he looks his constituents in the face next fall and tries to justify why they should vote for him,” Fulton said.

 

Brady sent a written apology Monday through a spokesman. He also posted his apology on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

“There is no excuse I can offer that explains my embarrassing and shameful words that insulted, stereotyped and dehumanized an entire culture while making light of a serious human rights crisis,” Brady wrote. “My words matter, both as a state legislator and as a person, and I deeply apologize for the inexcusable language I used.”

House Democratic leaders said they were “shocked and disappointed” this week when they learned of Brady’s email, according to a letter sent to Brady on Tuesday by House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, and House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell.

Like the state Democratic party, House leadership said the language “cannot be excused and will not be tolerated” by the caucus, but did not call on Brady to resign.

“Our country has seen anti-Asian hatred grow exponentially during this past year, fueled by reckless political figures and talking heads who have spewed rhetoric and lies,” the letter reads. “While your apology was sincere and contrite, words alone are not enough to properly address this situation.”

House leadership is directing Brady to take sensitivity training to “better understand and appreciate how deeply your words affect people.” He is also being told to reach out to local Asian American organizations to “open a dialogue” and make amends and rebuild trust with the Asian American community.

Neither Schwartzkopf or Longhurst responded to further questions.

In Delaware, emails sent by lawmakers and the governor are not considered public record. Brady’s email only became known after it was shared with Delaware Online/The News Journal.

As printed communications like letters become more obsolete, the public has the right to know what legislators are emailing, said John Flaherty, of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government.

“It seems that technology is enabling more and more communication to be out of the realm of public scrutiny,” Flaherty said. “That’s one of the benefits of having emails that are made public. We get to see how our legislators are conducting business.”

Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act is a series of laws determining what governmental records the public does and doesn’t have access to. The Delaware General Assembly did not become subject to FOIA until 2009. That same year, an amendment sponsored by Schwartzkopf excluded email communications from public record.

“Constituents send us emails with all kinds of things in it, and they don’t expect their private conversations with their legislators to be public,” Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, said in 2009. ““I really don’t think that was the intent of FOIA, for somebody who wants to be nosy, a nosy neighbor, just doing a fishing expedition.”

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst has also defended shielding lawmaker emails, saying in 2016 she doesn’t want sensitive constituent correspondence to be under public scrutiny.

Others point out that It is common practice in responding to FOIA requests to redact sensitive information.