Delaware’s Politics of Building (and Burning) Bridges
The building of bridges does not necessarily bring two sides together. Case in point: the state’s 2013 legislative session.
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Except for Hawaii, no state is an island, although for a long time Delaware did a pretty good impression of one.
It was mostly geography’s fault, but geography was just doing what comes naturally. A more sinister culprit was politics. It took advantage of geography and lured it into a conspiracy.
In earlier days, there was so much frustration about traveling to Delaware that people could be excused if they concluded they simply could not get here from there.
Too much water was in the way. With the Delaware River to the east and the Chesapeake Bay to the west beyond Maryland’s Eastern Shore, people had their choice of a slow boat or a long route. They could wait for a ferry, or they could ride around and come in from the north.
Geography could be surmounted by bridges, but politics was having none of it. The moneyed ferry and railroad interests stood firm against bridges, killjoys to America’s love affair with cars and the open road. It stayed that way, greed trumping romance, until the public demand became too insistent and prevailed with the Delaware Memorial Bridge in 1951 and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge soon after in 1952.
Delaware was finally open for the price of gas in the tank and some bridge tolls.
Even so, the state still clung to an insular mindset, reinforced by the smallness of its size and its own sense of specialness as the First State. Delaware practiced its politics in its own way, fit for a place where people liked to think that everyone knew everyone else.
Jim Soles, the late political scientist from the University of Delaware, called it “consensus politics,” conducted in a spirit of civility and compromise. The ultimate expression was Return Day, the post-election festivities in Georgetown, the Sussex County seat, where the winners and losers rode together in carriages or antique cars, and a hatchet literally was buried in sand.