Is This the Most Powerful Man in Delaware?
The Senate president pro tempore says he’s never used certain privileges unless asked by someone else. Right or wrong, Thurman Adams still wants what’s best for all.
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Former Republican Senate Minority Leader Charlie Copeland says Adams has played partisan politics as hard as they come. Copeland served in the Senate from 2002 till 2008, voluntarily relinquishing his seat for an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor last year. During his time, “Republicans were not allowed to pursue bills on legitimate issues,” Copeland says. “Republican bills were simply routed to either [Adams’] or other Democrat-controlled committees, where they’d remain in the chairman’s desk drawer. A bill I had introduced on Medicaid never saw the light of day until a Democrat introduced the same bill—and it was passed.”
Even reform-minded Democrats have run up against Adams’ sometimes iron-fisted control of the legislative process. Senator Karen Peterson arrived in the Senate in 2002, determined to see open government legislation passed.
“I introduced my open government bill in 2003, and it went nowhere,” Peterson says. “I introduced it again in 2005, with additional sponsors, and again in 2007. In our caucus, I asked Thurman if we would consider it, and he told me, ‘We’ll get to it.’”
Peterson says Adams said that on several occasions, but the bill never went anywhere.
“He’s old school,” Peterson says. “In a democracy, the majority is supposed to rule. When one person unilaterally can kill legislation, it’s not democratic.”
According to Peterson, Adams can subvert even the procedure for steering legislation past an intractable committee chair.
“If a majority wants a bill voted out of committee, the senate can petition it out,” Peterson explains. “It takes 11 signatures. But I’ve circulated three such petitions and could never get to the 11 signatories.”
She says potential signers are threatened with a loss of staff or committee assignments, should their name appear on an unwanted petition. Copeland believes that happened to him, though he admits he has no proof. “All of the hiring and firing decisions for the Republican caucus had to be approved by the Democrat leadership,” Copeland says. “Thurman never told me why he wouldn’t let me fill the vacancy other than ‘budgets.’”
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