Races to Watch: 6th Senate District
As part of our 2022 Election coverage, Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch” in November’s general election.
Republican State Senator Ernie Lopez is retiring in the 6th Senate District and three candidates – including a current State Representative – are vying to replace him.
Delaware Public Media’s Joe Irizarry breaks down this race to represent Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Milton, and nearby communities in the state Senate.
With Republican State Senator Ernie Lopez retiring in Delaware’s 6th Senate District, three candidates including a current State Rep. are vying to replace him.
The winner of the race will represent residents in Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Milton, and nearby communities in the state Senate.
Democrat Russ Huxtable, Republican Steve Smyk, and the Non-Partisan Delaware party’s Gwendolyn Jones square off in a district that has voted Republican since it was redistricted to Sussex County in 2012, and was a GOP stronghold in New Castle County prior to that.
In the last election, Lopez defeated Democrat David Baker by about 1,500 votes.
"The Republicans didn't get me in office, the Democrats did. I had a Republican foundation, but it was the Democrats that came over and voted for me and I serve all of them. I serve you as well as everyone else."Steve Smyk, Republican State Representative and candidate for the 6th Senate District
The race has a little of everything. There’s the name recognition of a 10-year State Rep. in Smyk. There’s a political newcomer in Huxtable. And there’s the third party candidate Jones, who might be familiar to some voters after running for this seat two other times and Milton Town Council two times.
Jones believes the two-party system is broken, and the many state races with an incumbent running unopposed is proof it’s not even a functioning two-party system. When it comes to issues, the legalization of cannabis is important to Jones.
"My particular issue is over two-thirds of Delaware's population favors cannabis legalization. It's past due, and if we continue to elect retired police and retired military officers we'll continue to get a police state. I think that our legislators in Dover need to be more fiscally responsible, and they also need to be socially responsive," said Jones.
But the name most familiar to voters in this district is Smyk. The House 20th district he currently represents overlaps with the sixth Senate district, and he’s been at Leg Hall for 10 years now. Smyk believes the primary issues facing the area are farmland preservation, responsible growth, beach access, surf tags, and local waterways.
"I'm concerned and I always have been about our waterways dredging and making sure that our fishing is reliable, that they can get out there and contribute to the economy,” said Smyk. “That seems to have lost footing in New Castle County. They don't think about the value that fishing has here with our Roosevelt Inlet and our Indian River Inlet getting out to the bays and the ocean."
Huxtable might be a political newcomer, but he already topped Jack Bucchioni in the primary in September. He sees healthcare, education, affordable housing, and growth as issues in the district, but notes dealing with growth may top the list.
“People are concerned about growth in this area we're obviously a high growth area, and the unintended consequences of that growth. So they want their fair share of resources to deal with traffic and infrastructure. Concerned about the environment not just on the climate change aspect, but even locally with what's happening with deforestation," said Huxtable.
"I'm the political newcomer, not a stranger to the area or to the issues that we're facing. I've been working on a lot of these issues for the non-profit housing and community development aspect of things... And I'm always going to run like I'm 10 points behind..."Russ Huxtable, Democratic candidate for the 6th Senate District
The candidates face some obstacles in this race. Huxtable and Jones need to overcome Smyk’s name recognition, while Jones also faces an uphill climb as a third-party candidate. As for Smyk, this district has over 3,000 more Democrats registered than Republicans, with another 11,000 not identifying with either party.
How do these candidates look at these obstacles? Smyk doesn’t think the registration deficit for Republicans is too difficult to overcome. He’s used to it in the 20th House District in the past where he feels his track record has drawn support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
"The Republicans didn't get me in office, the Democrats did. I had a Republican foundation, but it was the Democrats that came over and voted for me and I serve all of them,” said Smyk. “I serve you as well as everyone else."
Meanwhile, Huxtable says he has a strategy to overcome any name recognition deficit he faces.
"There's certainly that concern. I'm the political newcomer, not a stranger to the area or to the issues that we're facing. I've been working on a lot of these issues for the non-profit housing and community development aspect of things, but yeah there's certainly a concern. And I'm always going to run like I'm 10 points behind, and make sure that we are reaching the voters and canvassing and meeting them and talking to them and seeing what their issues are so we can get our name out there a little bit more," said Huxtable.
Jones isn’t worried about name recognition, saying her time in the county as a resident and past candidate make her a known quantity.
"This is the fifth time I'm running for a public office. So either by my speaking on the radio or just any recognition, I've been here in Sussex County, Delaware for over 21 years, and I'm sure that not everybody's heard me, I think most people have and one fashion or another,” said Jones. “This is my third time running for Senate District 6 and I've also run for Milton Town council twice before."
And as voters get set to cast their ballots, what do the candidates want them to consider beyond the issues? Huxtable believes Smyk’s voting record doesn’t represent district residents, especially as it pertains to women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality.
"As I've been canvassing, Roe v. Wade has popped up into the conversation more and more. So people are still concerned with women's reproductive rights being her own, and I know Steve Smyk hass voted against that, has voted again decriminalizing abortion. We have a large community of LGBTQ+ folks here in the community, and he's voted against marriage equality and equal protection. So, I don't think he necessarily represents the values of this community, and how we are changing and growing and wanting to grow together," said Huxtable.
If Jones says she would bring the common person’s point of view to Dover. She will not be just another politician.
"This is the fifth time I'm running for a public office. So either by my speaking on the radio or just any recognition, I've been here in Sussex County, Delaware for over 21 years, and I'm sure that not everybody's heard me, I think most people have in one fashion or another."Gwendolyn Jones, Non-Partisan Delaware candidate for the 6th Senate District
"I'm in the middle of it, and I'm struggling right along with everybody,” said Jones. And I don't think somebody with a long list of qualifications and is financially well off, retired or getting government pensions I think that may appeal to a certain number of people also in that position, but I think in order to understand the struggles of the citizens, the taxpayer, the voter you have to be actually one of them and struggling with them."
Smyk argues his opponents are too partisan for the district, and he will bring the well-being of residents with him to Dover more than the other two candidates.
"I serve everything and because they won't they've already committed that they won't serve everyone I can't let that occur and I'm not going to abandon you the 20th the guy I set those guys up I had a bench under me. I said are you ready, and I put in a guy named Dallas Wingate. He's a pretty smart fellow," said Smyk.
All three candidates continue canvassing voters to discuss issues, making sure they reach as many as they can in a district that regularly sees an influx of new voters.
Early voting is underway and runs until Sunday November 6 at Lewes Fire Department Station #2 - as voters in the Senate 6th make their choice to replace Ernie Lopez.