‘I finally feel like I’m getting it,’ new Delaware senator reflects on first six months

More than 1 in 4 state Senate and House seats changed in Delaware in the 2019 election. With their first session behind them, newbies reflect on challenges, accomplishments.

Stat Sen. Laure Sturgeon says the transition from teacher to state lawmaker has been challenging but 'I finally feel like I’m getting it.' (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Stat Sen. Laure Sturgeon says the transition from teacher to state lawmaker has been challenging but 'I finally feel like I’m getting it.' (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

This year the Delaware General Assembly had 17 new members as more than one in four seats changed hands.

There were more black lawmakers — eight — and women lawmakers — 15 — than ever. Twelve of the 17 new members were Democrats in this decidedly blue state.

As the Senate and House concluded the legislative session this week, some of the newbies reflected on their experiences, accomplishments and challenges.

Democratic state Sen. Laura Sturgeon, a longtime teacher, is the first Latino woman in the Legislature.

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“I started out so raw,’’ Sturgeon said. “I knew nothing and I felt overwhelmed and wondered if I would ever fully understand the process. Now I finally feel like I’m getting it.

Sturgeon’s bill to let students get passes to use public transit buses if they attend a school outside their district passed both chambers and is awaiting Gov. John Carney’s signature.

But her bill requiring gun buyers to get a state permit and undergo regular training didn’t get a vote. Nor did two other major gun control measures she co-sponsored — to ban assault-style weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

Her victories and defeats have steeled Sturgeon for next year.

“When I go to a committee hearing to speak about legislation not only do I need to know what the bill says but I need to anticipate all kinds of tangential questions related to the bill that are going to be thrown my way and be ready to answer them,’’ she said.

New state Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker spoke with WHYY as she hurried to a meeting with the Democratic caucus. She is proud of sponsoring a bill that makes it easier to get criminal charges expunged. She said the transition was easy because she’d been on Wilmington City Council.

First-term state Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker says her four years on Wilmington City Council helped her adjust to working in the Delaware General Assembly. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“It’s actually been enjoyable because when you’re battle tested you are prepared to do this work,’’ she said. “I tell anyone that if you can serve on Wilmington City Council successfully for one term, you can be president of the United States of America.”

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst said the new crop exceeded expectations.

“When we lost so many retirees we were a little worried about what our General Assembly would look like,’’ Longhurst said. “But the constituents in those districts selected the right candidates and all of them came in with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of ideas. But they also came in with a measured tone where they sat back and learned, and then they brought forth some great legislation.”

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