A Delaware state senator wants term limits. But his bill to institute them remains stuck in committee run by longest-serving lawmaker

The measure was introduced by first-term legislator Eric Buckson, who says it’s good policy to “let fresh ideas and fresh blood present themselves.”

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Sen. Eric Buckson (left) poses for a photo, while Sen. Dave Sokola (right) poses for a photo.

Sen. Eric Buckson (left) wants to put term limits on lawmakers and statewide elected officials, but his measure is stuck in a committee run by Senate Pro Tem Dave Sokola, the state's longest-serving legislator. (State of Delaware)

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If first-term Delaware state Sen. Eric Buckson had his way, several of his legislative colleagues would already have outlived their welcome.

To that end, the Dover-area Republican introduced a constitutional amendment this spring that would impose term limits on members of the state Senate and House.

Senators would only be able to serve four four-year terms. House members would be limited to seven two-year terms.

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His bill would also limit Delaware’s attorney general, insurance commissioner, treasurer, and auditor to two four-year terms. Delaware’s governor and lieutenant governor are already limited to two terms.

But Buckson is cognizant of the reality that few comrades in the General Assembly on either side of the aisle would vote to make themselves or colleagues ineligible for re-election any time soon.

So he included this key caveat: The clock would not start ticking until the measure was enacted.

In other words, even legislators like House Speaker Valerie Longhust — now in her 11th term — would count the 2026 election as their first term.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote by each chamber for two consecutive two-year sessions of the General Assembly. To become part of the constitution, the measure would have to pass in the current session that ends in June, and then in the 2025-26 session.

Buckson was elected in 2022, defeating Colin Bonini, a fellow Republican who also had tried in vain to pass term limits but then ended up serving seven Senate terms before Buckson thwarted his bid for an eighth.

“It’s healthy for democracy,” Buckson said of setting term limits. “I don’t think a career in politics spanning 30 years in the same seat was something that was ever envisioned or comprehended by our founding fathers. I think it’s wise to have term limits that say you can be here, you can do good but your time is set and when it is time, you’ve got to move on.”

Sokola: ‘We have term limits. The voters do it’

Yet Buckson’s legislation is currently in limbo — stuck in the Senate Executive Committee that held a hearing on the measure in May.

The chair of the panel is Sen. Pro Tem Dave Sokola, who is by far the longest-serving lawmaker in Dover. Sokola, a Democrat first elected in 1990, is in his ninth term and 33rd year representing the Pike Creek and Newark area.

Sokola would not agree to an interview about the legislation and its limbo status, but recently informed Buckson in writing that “there was not sufficient support from members of the committee to release’’ the measure to the full Senate for debate and a vote.

The committee in the Democrat-dominated Senate has seven members — five Democrats and two Republicans. Unlike in the House, where committee members vote publicly on whether to release a bill to the full chamber, under the Senate rules members don’t cast their votes in public.

During the hearing on the issue, Sokola made clear his opposition.

First he quipped that Bonini had called for term limits early in his tenure but ended up serving nearly three decades.

Sokola also said he believes that elections decide the issue.

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“I do believe that we have term limits. The voters do it,’’ Sokola said, noting a few examples of longstanding lawmakers being ousted in elections.

Sokola also said he’s read that when states limit terms of state legislators, the balance of power shifts to the executive branch, state agencies, or lobbyists.

“The power that used to be with the elected officials who really listen or are supposed to be listening is shifted to one or more of those other things,’’ Sokola said.

Buckson was unpersuaded and undeterred.

“I absolutely believe right now, the way the system is set up with the money and the influence and everything else,” Buckson told the committee, “that it is fair to say let the voters decide but then max out and move on. Let fresh ideas and fresh blood present themselves.”

Buckson wants supporters to tell elected officials

Sokola also pointed out to Buckson in writing that “we received no public comment on the bill during the meeting nor via written testimony submitted leading up to or after the hearing.”

Buckson said that’s why he’s raising the issue now, during a legislative recess. Legislators ended their 2023 session on June 30, and reconvene in January.

Buckson sent out a press release earlier this month about the bill being stymied. He said he’s hoping that residents statewide would contact their legislator to persuade them to support the measure and get Sokola to release it.

“So the hope is people listening who agree will take upon themselves not just to reach out to me, but to reach out to elected officials” and express their support of term limits, Buckson said.

“If the bill gets released and put on to the floor for a full vote, I think it would be a lively discussion and I think folks would be surprised to learn that there is support. Now would it be enough? I don’t know, but I do think there’d be a lot more support than leaving it stuck in a committee.”

Buckson’s bill has a House co-sponsor in Minority Leader Mike Ramone, a Pike Creek

Republican now in his 11th term.

“I believe there comes a time where people start thinking about themselves and their careers and their benefits and everything they accomplished personally as a legislator as opposed to going back to thinking of why they became legislators in the first place, which is normally to serve the people,’’ Ramone said.

Ramone said that if Sokola and his committee keep the measure bottled up, it’s possible the House would consider a similar measure and release it to the floor.

Ramone said he continues hoping Sokola will release the bill, “but if not, I’m fairly confident it will get a moment on the floor somewhere.”

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