Republican and Democratic opponents in Delaware united at Return Day on Thursday.
Delaware’s next Governor John Carney and the state’s would-be governor Colin Bonini sat side-by-side in a horse-drawn carriage, and rode off under the shining afternoon sun.
“We have lots in common,” said Carney, the Democratic U.S. Congressman before taking the ride.
“We’re big sports fans, so we’ll talk about that,” Carney said. “I’m a big fan about his wife, who’s a really outstanding professor at Delaware State University, so I suspect we’ll talk a bit about that. And I look forward to talking to him about things we can work on together—he’s going be a state senator, and as governor, we’ll need to work together.”
After every election Republicans and Democrats unite in a celebration known as Return Day in Georgetown. Opponents in races share a carriage ride and wave at spectators, demonstrating their bi-partisan civility. At the end of the parade candidates bury a hatchet—literally and figuratively—to symbolize letting go of grudges and moving forward.
“It’s really fun, it’s one of these great Delaware traditions,” said Bonini, the Republican state senator from Dover. “It is good symbolism. It’s very healthy for us to say, ‘Hey let’s get together,’ and it’s particularly poignant this year, because Delaware faces so many challenges. I think it’s a good message for all of us to start working on it.”
The exact date of the first Return Day is unknown, but historians say it could have been as early as 1792.
The event began because state law required all votes for elective office to be cast at the County Seat, which was Georgetown. Voters traveled to Georgetown on Election Day to cast their ballot, and returned two days later to hear the count and celebrate.
While an official Return Day isn’t needed in modern times, it is celebrated every two years in the form of parade, speeches, entertainment and an ox roast.
“This is really what we should be doing at Return Day, is burying the hatchet at the end and making clear while we’re Democrat and Republican, we’re first and foremost Delawareans and Americans, and we need to do the right thing in the country and state,” Carney said.
Republican Hans Reigle, who lost his race for Congress to Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester, said he usually attends the event as a spectator. He said he was looking forward to participating in the parade as a candidate.
“It’s a good tradition, and this is Delaware, we have to all work together, and I’m happy to ride with Lisa. She’s a very nice lady and I know she’ll do well,” Reigle said. “I’m proud of what I accomplished, and we had a good race, it was a clean race, it was a civil race, and that is very important.”
Blunt Rochester said she hopes the rest of the nation can follow in Delaware’s footsteps.
“I think Secretary Clinton said it really well the other day, it first starts with giving our new president an opportunity to lead, and for us to have open minds. Delaware has been a good example, everything from how people have run campaigns in this state, and try to not have a lot of negativity,” she said.
“People are expressing themselves, but next they have to get involved in whatever they can—whether it’s running for office, donating to candidates they believe, support what they support or getting involved with their local politics. This is time to step up, not step back.”