Primary voters send two prominent Delaware lawmakers into involuntary retirement

Left: Republican Sen. Colin Bonini. Right: Democratic Rep. Larry Mitchell. (Provided by campaigns)

Left: Republican Sen. Colin Bonini. Right: Democratic Rep. Larry Mitchell. (Provided by campaigns)

Delaware primary voters sent two longtime prominent state legislators — Republican Sen. Colin Bonini and Democratic Rep. Larry Mitchell — into involuntary retirement Tuesday.

Bonini, who had represented the Dover area since 1995 and was the GOP’s nominee for governor in 2016, finished third in a three-way primary.

Defeating Bonini was Kent County Commissioner Eric Buckson, a retired teacher and coach whose late father David was a former attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor. Buckson took 51% of the vote, Kim Petters got 27% and Bonini just 22%. Buckson has no Democratic opponent in the general election.

Bonini released a statement Tuesday night that said “it’s really been such a blessing’’ to represent his district for 28 years and congratulated Buckson “for his victory.”

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Mitchell, the House Majority Whip and a lawmaker since 2006, lost by 24 out of 1,314 votes cast to first-time candidate DeShanna Neal.

Neal, who is nonbinary and an LGBTQ advocate, faces Republican Carlucci Coelho in the race to represent House District 13. The district includes Elsmere and a slice of southwest Wilmington, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1.

Mitchell did not respond to WHYY’s request for comment on his defeat.

Neal said Wednesday she entered the race after attending a district meeting and learning that Mitchell, a former New Castle County police sergeant, opposed a bill that would require permits to own a handgun.

“He seemed not to care about the people who are being impacted by gun violence,’’ Neal said.

DeShanna Neal is an LGBTQ activist and first-time candidate who defeated Mitchell by 24 votes out of 1,314 cast. (Courtesy of Neal)

When knocking on doors or calling voters during the campaign, Neal said residents told her “they didn’t even know who he was the majority of the time’’ even though Mitchell had represented the district for 16 years.

“And I would ask the question, ‘Okay, well, if someone has been representing you for 16 years but you don’t know who they are or what they do, have they actually been representing you?’ And people were like, ‘Oh.’”

Should she win in the Nov. 8 general election, Neal said she will focus on identifying and solving longstanding problems such as gun violence and entrenched poverty and inequality.

“The only way we’re actually ever going to see Delaware become great is by addressing its flaws and shortcomings,’’ Neal said. ”We can’t always say everything’s perfect, everything’s great, because that’s not true about really anything. You unpack, you process, and you work to find better solutions.”

Coby Owens, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party, credited Neal for knocking off an entrenched incumbent such as Mitchell.

Neal’s message “resonated with residents and they want change,” Owens said. “And that’s the strength of our democracy at the end of the day. They are no one’s seats. They are the community’s seats.”

General Assembly will have several new faces come November

Tuesday’s 14 legislative races had taken a backseat to the marquee event  – the Democratic primary for auditor, which was won decisively by Lydia York over incumbent Kathy McGuiness, who was recently convicted for abuse of office.

But the legislative stakes were high because five sitting lawmakers did not seek re-election and one newly created seat was also contested.

The other results:

  • Former U.S. Senate candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris won a four-way Democratic race for the Dover-area House seat held by Andria Bennett, who did not seek re-election. Cheryl Precourt is the GOP candidate. Harris had unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Sen. Tom Carper in 2018.
  • Ruxx Huxtable defeated John Bucchioni in the Democratic primary for Rehoboth Beach-area state Senate seat held by Republican Ernie Lopez, who did not seek re-election. In November, Huxtable will face current state Rep. Steve Smyck, who is vacating his Lewes-area House seat.
  • Kyra Hoffner won a five-way Democratic race for the Smyrna-area Senate seat held by Bruce Ennis, who did not seek re-election. Hoffner faces Republican Mark Pugh in November.
  • Democrat Sophie Phillips beat Martin Willis for the New Castle-area House seat held by David Bentz, who did not seek re-election. Gloria Payne is the GOP candidate.
  • Democrat Cyndie Romer bested Edward Klima for the Newark-area state House seat held by John Kowolko, who did not seek re-election. Romer faces Republican Lynn May in November.
  • Republican Jeff Hilovsky defeated Bradley Layfield for the new Sussex County state House seat in the Long Neck area. Hilovsky will face Democrat Keegan Worley in November.  The seat was created through redistricting that eliminated a seat in Wilmington because of population shifts. That Wilmington district was held by Rep. Gerald Brady until he resigned in January after sending racist emails and being accused of shoplifting at a Newark grocery store.
  • Incumbent Democratic Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha narrowly defeated Wilmington City Councilwoman Shane’ Darby. Chukwuocha faces Republican Mark Gardner in November.
  • Incumbent Democratic Rep. Stephanie Bolden defeated James Taylor to retain her Wilmington House seat. Bolden has no opponent in November.
  • Incumbent Democratic Rep. Debra Heffernan defeated Becca Cotto for the Bellevue-area seat north of Wilmington. Heffernan faces Republican Michael Krawczuk in November.
  • Incumbent Democratic Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton defeated Kelly Maresca for the Newark-area seat. Timothy Conrad is the GOP candidate.
  • Incumbent Democratic Rep. Eric Morrison defeated Michael Hertzfeld for the Glasgow-area seat. John Marino is the GOP candidate.
  • Incumbent Republican Rep. Bryan Shupe held off Patrick Smith to retain his Milford-area House seat. There is no Democratic candidate.

If both Neal and Harris, who are Black, win the election in November, it would increase the diversity of the General Assembly. The House currently has nine Black members out of 41 seats, and three of the Senate’s 21 members are Black.

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Democrats currently hold commanding leads in both chambers of the General Assembly — by 26-15 in the House, and 14-7 in the Senate.

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