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Races to Watch: Rep. Eric Morrison looks to secure second term in 27th House District against newcomer Michael Hertzfeld

Eric Morrison and Michael Hertzfeld
Delaware Public Media
Eric Morrison and Michael Hertzfeld

Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch,” starting with races in the upcoming September primary as part of our 2022 election coverage.

This week, we look at two races – the first is the Democratic Primary for the 27th House District, which pits an incumbent State Representative who started his political career during the pandemic against a political newcomer with a deep law enforcement background.

DPM’s Mark Arehart examines this race.

Note: multiple efforts to schedule an interview with one of the candidates in this race – Michael Hertzfeld – were unsuccessful.

Delaware Public Media's Mark Arehart breaks down the Democratic Primary for the 27th House District

The Democratic primary between State Rep. Eric Morrison and challenger Michael Hertzfeld is for a New Castle County district that votes overwhelmingly blue in general elections.

It’s also a district that has changed its footprint thanks to redistricting. The 27th, which historically ran from the southern part of Newark along the Maryland border down to the banks of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, now extends farther south into parts of Middletown. Though the new map loses a swath of Newark voters.

Morrison, a first-term state rep from Glasgow, said he’s knocking on doors in Middletown to engage with new voters in the district.

He wants to build on his record of supporting workers’ rights and push for both healthcare and criminal justice reform.

And he’s open to working with Republicans to get it done in Dover.

“In some ways, I don’t like the word compromise because it implies, I think, that somebody’s losing something and somebody’s winning. I like to think of it as working together, as working collaboratively,” Morrison said.

But Morrison wants voters to know there are certain issues on which he will not compromise.

“So, when you’re talking about abortion rights, when you’re talking about equality or LGBTQ+ individuals, things like that are, for me, set in stone,” he said.

Hertzfeld, a political newcomer from Middletown, has spent decades in Delaware law enforcement. He’s currently the Chief of the Delaware Capitol Police.

“In some ways, I don’t like the word compromise because it implies, I think, that somebody’s losing something and somebody’s winning. I like to think of it as working together, as working collaboratively."
Democratic Representative Eric Morrison, 27th House District

While he declined to be interviewed for this story, Hertzfeld’s campaign website said he prioritizes supporting public education and working with district businesses in recovery efforts during the pandemic.

Expanding renewable energy sources in the state is one of Hertzfeld’s key campaign issues.

According to his site, Hertzfeld wants to “move the State's renewable energy program forward to counter the impacts of climate change. Ensure our citizens have the availability of all energy options to keep costs affordable.”

Since Morrison was elected in November 2020, he has sponsored or co-sponsored around 300 pieces of legislation.

When asked what stands out to him over his first term, Morrison points to something that didn’t make it into law: a bill he sponsored mandating paid sick time in Delaware.

“That is not one of those bills you pass in one year. I’ve spent many, many hours speaking with stakeholders and legislators and various interests on the legislation. And really improving it. So, that’s legislation that I will continue to work on and I look forward to reintroducing this year.”

Though the bill never made it out of committee, Morrison said he’s hopeful it will gain traction.

“That was really my main goal was to have it heard in committee and get feedback on it. We have a great deal of support from legislators. So, for example, we already have 10 sponsors or co-sponsors over in the Senate and it would only need 10 votes to pass the Senate.”

As for his opponent, Hertzfeld’s experience as a decorated law enforcement officer is front and center in his campaign.

According to a 2019 release announcing his appointment as the head of the Capitol Police, Hertzfeld has served in many roles over his decades-long career.

They include stints as a patrol officer, detective, public information officer, training coordinator and internal affairs supervisor. He was named New Castle City Police Officer of the year.

Hertzfeld is also an adjunct professor at Delaware State University.

Morrison is one of the few open LGBTQ+ individuals elected to the State legislature in Delaware. He sees himself as a role model for other Delawareans.

“I know that when I was young I would look up to people from my community, although back then it was a lot harder. I would read about people like Harvey Milk. I think we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. So, that’s something I take very seriously, representing my LGBTQ+ community, not just in terms of legislation, but also as someone that is out there and visible as openly as an LGBTQ+ Delawarean,” Morrison said.

Because he has not made himself available for an interview, it’s unclear where Hertzfeld lands on a number of key issues for Delawareans, including marijuana legalization.

“For me, it was about standing behind my conviction and what I thought was right.”
Democratic Representative Eric Morrison, 27th House District

Morrison was part of the Democratic contingent that passed Delaware’s bill to legalize cannabis possession. Gov. John Carney vetoed it in May.

“The whole situation was very disappointing to me and disappointing to a lot of Delawareans. A majority of Delawareans, we know, support cannabis legalization. A vast majority of Democrats support cannabis legalization. So, I was very disappointed in how all that turned out this year because we were not doing the will of Delawareans.”

At the time Morrison thought they may have enough votes to override the Governor’s veto. That ship sailed when a handful of his fellow House Democrats and two republican supporters changed their votes.

“For me, it was about standing behind my conviction and what I thought was right.”

The winner of this September 13th Democratic Primary faces Republican John Marino in November.

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Mark Arehart is an award-winning reporter/producer. Before returning to Delaware, Arehart was a reporter for WKSU and Ideastream Public Media in Northeast Ohio. He previously hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He has worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.