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Races to Watch: Candidates seek GOP nomination in new House District

Bradley Layfield and Jeff Hilovsky
Delaware Public Media
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Bradley Layfield and Jeff Hilovsky

In Sussex County, there’s a new House district following the latest round of redistricting.

That took the 4th District seat currently in Wilmington – held by Democratic Rep. Charles “Bud” Freel – and moved it to a carved-out section of Long Neck, made up mostly of the area that had been in the 37th District, but also includes parts of the 41st, 38th and 14th districts.

Delaware Public Media’s Kelli Steele spoke with the two Republicans – Bradley Layfield and Jeff Hilovsky – that are seeking to be the new district’s GOP nominee this week as part of the station’s “Races to Watch” series.

Delaware Public Media’s Kelli Steele talks with the two Republicans seeking to be the new 4th House district’s GOP nominee

Bradley Layfield has spent 22 years as an educator and is currently in his 9th year as principal at Sussex Central High School. But before that, he made his first foray into politics.

“When I was at the University of Delaware, I graduated in 2001, in the Fall of 2000 I was asked by many in the party (Republican) to run for Register in Chancery,” Layfield said. “I had a primary at the time and I was defeated by John Brady.”

Now, Layfield says he’s ready to try again, “I learned a lot from that and I basically said - I know why folks didn't vote for me then - I was young, I was 20, I was inexperienced, but I had passion. So after several years of serving my community in various capacities, when this seat opened up I still had that same passion to serve the public and that’s why I’ve filed now.”

Layfield’s challenger - retired optometrist Dr. Jeff Hilovky - has never run for office, but says his grandchildren prompted him to toss his hat into this race, “I was playing on the floor with two of my grandkids; we were doing some silly stuff - legos or something - and it hit me: they have no voice, they have no say and they have no vote. And so what is their world going to look like when they become adults in 15 to 20 years - what is it going to be? And so unless people who are of strong thought, strong conviction, have a strong work heritage, have various experiences in the world - scientists, commander, business person and job creator - then we’re going to leave this up to the people who don’t have any of those qualifications. And so therefore, I entered the race.”

"I was playing on the floor with two of my grandkids; we were doing some silly stuff – legos or something – and it hit me: they have no voice, they have no say and they have no vote. And so what is their world going to look like when they become adults in 15 to 20 years – what is it going to be?"
Dr. Jeff Hilovky, retired optometrist and candidate for the 4th House district’s GOP nomination

Republicans hold a registration edge in the new 4th with 8,660 GOP voters to just over 7,500 hundred Democrats -- and about 5,200 others.

And both men are working hard to become known to those voters - a process Layfield says includes educating them about their new District, “A majority of this district has been represented by Ruth Briggs King; in the northern part of the District, some folks were represented by Pete Schwartzkopf, some by Steve Smyk - so in that area you’ve got a mix of elected Democrats and elected Republicans. So it being an open seat, it’s kind of a wild card.”

And Layfield say his conversations with voters usually start with the infrastructure - which he says is a huge deal, “Traffic grinds to a standstill about 5 o’clock coming westbound on John J. Williams Hwy (Route 24), the Route 5 and Route 24 intersection and the Route 23 and 24 intersection at Long Neck Road. I do know that DelDOT is working and I’ve seen the Millsboro bypass in the queue; it’s coming but it’s still going to be a few years. Also what I’m hearing more when I’m knocking on doors and talking to people is public safety and supporting our first responders.”

Hilovsky says he’s also reaching out to residents in the new 4th District and he finds they are primarily concerned about the economy and inflation, “So we have a large retiree population and with that comes fixed income - however you define that fixed income - and I talk to people of all income levels all day long and they’re saying, “are you kidding me” - a bag of groceries now cost $50 and it used to cost me $20. And I spoke to a restaurant owner and he said that jumbo lump crab meat to put on some of his dishes - cost him $65 a pound and I was stunned by that. So he said it’s not 8%, it’s not 10%, it’s a 60% difference. And so that’s just one example of that (high prices).”

Hilovsky also notes that many small business owners he hears from worry the skyrocketing cost of goods and services could push them out of business - concerns that extend into the ag industry, “I think one of the keys is - in Wilmington there are a lot of decent sized businesses - the credit card industry is still viable and there’s a few manufacturing plants there. But in Sussex County - this is small business. We have small, family-owned farms; 42% of the Delaware land mass is in farms. We have 230 farms that produced 221 million chickens last year. And wheat and soybeans are our top crops. So those family farms and the taxation and understanding the economy with fuel prices - diesel fuel being as high as $2.50 at one point, the cost of fertilizer being 30% higher and how about small businesses and things that have passed in the Legislature that took no concern for small business.”

He says one example is the paid family leave act. Hilovsky notes he supports it, but feels 12 weeks of paid family leave is excessive.

Layfield also argues that Democratic majorities in both chambers lead to legislation that goes too far. He questions the constitutionality of new vote by mail and gun laws - and says flipping districts like the 4th to the GOP column can make a difference, “But we need to be able to give a voice to a conservative point of view, without having to rely solely on the court system. So, put a stop to the radical legislation and go back to the days when the Democrats and Republicans would actually sit down and talk with one another, have a nuanced approach - a compromise - and actually pass legislation that helps people and not to push some far-left agenda.”

“But we need to be able to give a voice to a conservative point of view, without having to rely solely on the court system. So, put a stop to the radical legislation and go back to the days when the Democrats and Republicans would actually sit down and talk with one another, have a nuanced approach – a compromise."
Bradley Layfield, principal at Sussex Central High and candidate for the 4th House district’s GOP nomination

Both candidates consider themselves ultra-conservative.

But Hilovsky believes one key difference to consider is that he can be a full-time legislator since he’s retired. He adds he doesn’t understand how Layfield would manage the demands of being in the General Assembly while being an educator too.

Layfield counters that 21 of the 41 House lawmakers currently have full-time employment, and there is a history of educators serving, “And there have been several others before me who have been school teachers and school administrators; going back 10 years ago - even Nick Manalakos who was an assistant principal - a public school principal - has served. So there’s a precedent there and I would have never filed if I didn’t think I could do it. Serving 10 years as principal and also chairman of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, I’ve been able to multi-task throughout.”

This new Sussex district increases the number of House seats for Sussex County from nine to 10, and decreases the number of districts in Wilmington by one.

A reminder that Delaware’s primary is Tuesday, Sept. 13th and you can find more of our election coverage ahead of primary day anytime on delawarepublic.org

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Kelli Steele has over 30 years of experience covering news in Delaware, Baltimore, Winchester, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California.