4th driving suspension for Delaware treasurer-elect spurs GOP ethics complaint

Listen 2:10
State Treasurer-elect Colleen Davis had her driving license suspended for the fourth time during the campaign against incumbent Ken Simpler. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

State Treasurer-elect Colleen Davis had her driving license suspended for the fourth time during the campaign against incumbent Ken Simpler. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

When political novice Colleen Davis defeated incumbent Republican Ken Simpler in the Delaware treasurer’s race this month, it raised plenty of eyebrows.

Davis is a physician’s assistant and health care consultant, but Delaware’s blue wave of voters put the Democrat in charge of investing billions of dollars of taxpayer funds.

A week after being elected Nov. 6, Davis was arrested for driving with a suspended license, the fourth time she has been charged with that offense.

Now the state Republican Party wants an investigation into her fitness for office. GOP chairman Mike Harrington has filed a complaint with the state Public Integrity Commission, claiming that Davis violated the state officers’ code of conduct by “violating the public trust” and reflecting unfavorably on the government.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
Treasurer-elect Colleen Davis apologized on Facebook for  her latest arrest for driving while suspended. (Colleen Davis/Facebook)

Davis, 38, whose victory was the exclamation point on an midterm election that swept Democrats into all nine statewide elective offices, told WHYY that during her campaign, she received a speeding ticket. Busy with the race, she missed the court date.

“I made the mistake of not coming to court the day that they gave me. I had requested another date and didn’t get the notification,’’ she said.

Davis insisted she didn’t realize her driving privileges had been suspended, and drove her minivan while stumping for votes.

“I now know that, but I didn’t know that at the time,’’ she said.

Her previous driving while suspended cases, from 1997 when she was a teenager, and in 2001 and 2003, ended with guilty pleas. Two pleas were to the lesser charge of failing to reinstate her license.

Delaware GOP chairman Mike Harrington, addressing the party faithful on election night, has filed an ethics complaint against treasurer-elect Colleen Davis. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Hours after the Nov. 13 arrest, Davis said she went to court, paid a $50 fine and had her license temporarily reinstated. She is scheduled for an arraignment on Dec. 10, and her ability to remain in the driver’s seat is in jeopardy.

But the GOP wants to go further and prevent Davis from taking her $117,000-a-year post in January.

“The point is that we have an individual who has been elected into office who lost her license four times and seems to forget the fact that she doesn’t attend court hearings,’’ Harrington said in an interview.

“I just think it’s irresponsible. And the ethics commission could take a look at her and see if she’s ethically capable of holding the position.”

According to state law, however, it doesn’t appear that the commission can rule on the behavior of a winning candidate who hasn’t taken office or remove an elected official from office. The commission’s legal counsel, Deborah Moreau, would not comment on Harrington’s complaint or the panel’s procedures.

But Davis said she is prepared to defend herself and insists she is fully fit to be state treasurer.

“I don’t think there was any intent in creating any type of conflict with this or in any true ethical violation,’’ she said. “But again, I’d love the opportunity to stand on a solid foundation of truly who I am, rather than being judged based on a mistake that I genuinely honestly made.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal