Races to Watch: 20th House District
As part of our 2022 Election coverage, Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch” in November’s general election.
State Rep. Stephen Smyk is vacating his seat in the 20th House District in Sussex County to run for the State Senate, and now an educator born and raised in the district – Stell Parker Selby – and a military veteran – Dallas Wingate – vie to take Smyk’s place in the House.
Delaware Public Media’s Rachel Sawicki breaks down the race this week.
State Rep. Stephen Smyk is vacating his seat in the 20th House District to run for the State Senate.
Now, an educator born and raised in the 20th District and a military veteran vie to take Smyk’s place in the House
Esthelda “Stell” Parker Selby was born in Milford and raised in Lewes. She spent 30 years as a teacher and administrator in the Cape Henlopen School District - then a stint on that district's school board.
Parker Selby is no stranger to the campaign trail. She was elected to Milton Town Council in 2014, where she served as a council member and vice mayor.
Before that, she ran unsuccessfully for State Treasurer against former Gov. Jack Markell in 2006 and State Senate against the late Thurman Adams in 2004. Parker Selby ran as a Republican in those races, but left the party because she felt as though people like her were not being included.
“I just felt I wasn’t really going to win anything, period, as long as I stayed where I was,” Parker Selby says. “And things were changing a little bit nationally then, but then after these last 4 or 5 years, I’m kinda glad I got out before all of that. Something must have told me to get out at the right time.”
“I’m running because the Democrats need more voices in Dover. And they need more females from Sussex County in Dover, they need to show diversity in Dover.”Stell Parker Selby, candidate for the 20th House District
Although her exodus was before the Trump Administration, Parker Selby says she believes that era brought an entirely different Republican Party, one that she was already shying away from.
“I didn't leave on a negative note, disrespectfully, or I wasn't angry with anyone,” she says. “It was just me. You have to look out for your purpose in life and my purpose there was not anything that was going to do good for my future. My purpose, I'm a person who is involved and believes in helping people, my youth, my seniors, and I did not see myself with the party, as it was, doing anything else. Things were changing.”
Parker Selby would be the first African American of any gender to represent a southern district in the General Assembly, and one of few women to hold a legislative seat in Sussex.
“I’m running because the Democrats need more voices in Dover,” Parker Selby says. “And they need more females from Sussex County in Dover, they need to show diversity in Dover.”
The GOP candidate in this race is Dallas Wingate, a 37-year U.S. Army Veteran who served in the first Gulf War, and became a Colonel in 2006. Wingate has Masters degrees in Homeland Security and Healthcare Administration.
Wingate has never run for public office, but has served on numerous boards and committees as a senior military officer, and his forte, he says, is emergency management.
“I know how our state government works, particularly in crisis situations,” Wingate says. “I know how to bridge those gaps in between state agencies, and I know that skillset I think is going to be very important moving to the state legislature.”
Ultimately, he says public service is in his DNA, and believes someone with his military experience and skillset is sorely missing in Dover right now.
“The bottom line is, as a state representative, we’re making laws for all of the people, not just tiny segments of it,” Wingate says. “And I think we can do better, quite frankly. And that’s a big reason why I’m running.”
Wingate says the number one issue on the minds of voters he talks to is inflation,
“My campaign is focused on cutting all taxes to include income gross receipts and transfer tax,” Wingate says. “And making it absolutely clear, I will not support any tax increases. That is a given.”
Stimulus and rebate money from the federal and state government hasn’t gone far enough, and Wingate thinks an income tax cut, even a temporary one, is a meaningful solution. He argues Delaware has the money to do it now - suggesting the $300 relief rebate the state sent residents this year was insufficient.
“What is $300 now with inflation running at 8.5%?” Wingate says. “ It’s dinner for two!”
Parker Selby says she wants to address why there are still so many unfilled jobs, and what’s keeping people from getting back to work.
“Because that's going to be a big piece of getting rid of inflation,” she says. “We've got all these jobs and we don't have enough people to work. Before I would say, ‘let's give out more money,’ I think we need to review what we've done and how we can encourage people to get out here and help ourselves a little more with the inflation because I think we can.”
“The bottom line is, as a state representative, we’re making laws for all of the people, not just tiny segments of it. And I think we can do better, quite frankly. And that’s a big reason why I’m running.”Dallas Wingate, candidate for the 20th House District
Wingate also sees overdevelopment as an issue that’s front and center in the 20th House District.
“We need to improve how residential and commercial developments are planned and approved throughout the state,” Wingate says. “But especially in Eastern Sussex County where I’m at. In many cases, the infrastructure needed to support new developments has not been present on the front end of that development process.”
Parker Selby agrees managing development is important to voters, but suggests its environmental impact is also part of the equation. To address those issues, she says the state delegation needs to work closer with county and local governments.
“The big thing down here people are concerned about is overdevelopment and traffic congestion,” Parker Selby says. “That’s what I’ve heard since I said I’m going to run. And I’m still hearing that when I do meet and greets. Those are the big issues. People want to kind of have the feel of peaceful small town USA and go walk, ride your bikes without fear of getting run into.”
Education is also a priority for both candidates.
To address what he calls the state's “abysmal” proficiency scores, Wingate says parents need to be more involved. He supports the Delaware Right to Know Act that would create a website with information about courses and textbooks, along with how schools communicate with parents about violent incidents, health care services offered at the school and guardian consent instructions. It would also offer ways for parents, guardians and others to express concerns to school officials.
“Because I think schools are stronger, public education is better, when parents and teachers and administrators are working together instead of facing off as adversaries,” Wingate says. “We should not be trying to get them out of the classroom. That’s exactly the opposite of what I think we want to do if we’re trying to make our kids smarter and learning the things that the parents believe they should.”
The bill stalled in committee over fears of unnecessary lawsuits and adding to teachers’ workloads. Democratic lawmakers also argued it was a reactionary backlash toward unfounded concerns about teaching critical race theory, gender identity and sexuality studies.
Parker Selby says her background in education would make that issue a priority for her if she’s elected.
“I want to make sure, as an educator for all of my life’s profession, that we continue to do our best to make sure our children get the best,” Parker Selby says. “And with that, safety is a big issue with me with what’s going on nationally. I do not want to see our children have to fear going to school to think someone is going to come in and shoot them with an assault weapon.”
Which brings Selby to her stance on gun control – military use only.
“And I’m not against guns because if you lived in Sussex County, you’re used to everyone having a gun,” Parker Selby says. “The hunters, my students, all of them, at a certain time of year would go hunting with their families. And I actually allowed them to have time to do that, early in the morning they would come in. So there is no reason for anyone to say I’m against this, that would be a lie because I’m not against guns. I grew up in a county that has guns for all types of hunting and so forth. Not for hunting people, but for hunting animals and so forth that they have done for years, centuries.”
Wingate says he would also make school safety a priority if he heads to Leg Hall.
“I do not want to see our children have to fear going to school to think someone is going to come in and shoot them with an assault weapon.”Stell Parker Selby, candidate for the 20th House District
“We have the money, we have the resources, we have the will, so we should be working on that first and foremost when it comes to schools,” he says. “Let’s make sure our kids are safe in the classroom, nothing is more important than that.”
But Wingate adds he supports the Second Amendment as written, and questions some gun control laws passed this year - arguing these efforts to keep guns out of hands of criminals wind up only limiting access to law-abiding citizens.
“You can’t be in the military without learning responsible gun ownership and responsible handling of a weapon, that’s just a given,” Wingate says. “So I honestly believe that when it comes to applying that background, that’s what we all want. The rules of the military are a little different, but we also establish that there is a difference between weapons. There is a difference between a 9 millimeter and an M-16 rifle. Different standards for storage. And I think that's something that we could take away from the military that could be helpful as we determine what are the storage rules.”
He also thinks there may yet be a court challenge to the laws Delaware passed this year and suggests lawmakers change their focus when it comes to guns.
“It is all about law enforcement,” Wingate says. “My background, again, in the military, tells me that democracy cannot exist if we don’t have laws. We need to strengthen those laws and the penalties for the unlawful ownership of weapons.”
Wingate also opposes some legislative efforts surrounding police reform - like Senate Bill 149 - which would enable creation of community review boards.. Wingate says he understands the sentiment, but considers the boards unnecessary.
“It presumes that law enforcement is not capable of taking care of and enforcing disciplinary action on their own and I don’t agree with that at all,” Wingate says. “I know that these are consummate professionals and that is the last thing they want to do is damage their reputation in the community with a few misgivings of individual troopers.”
On the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana legislation, Wingate is skeptical, saying in the ten years since what he calls the “Colorado Experiment,” the illegal market there still exists.
“The black market for recreational marijuana, [they thought] it would go away, and it hasn’t,” he says. “It’s only grown in Colorado.”
Wingate adds he is also concerned there still isn’t a method to determine intoxication levels for marijuana, which could make for dangerous conditions on the road, and there are no solutions that he has seen or can think of that would change his decision to oppose it.
“Governor Carney had it right when he vetoed the last attempt to legalize recreational marijuana,” Wingate says. “He said, ‘I do not believe that promoting or expanding the use of recreational marijuana is in the best interest of the state of Delaware, especially our young people.’ Questions about long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use as well as serious law enforcement concerns remain unsolved.”
“Governor Carney had it right when he vetoed the last attempt to legalize recreational marijuana... Questions about long-term health and economic impacts of recreational marijuana use as well as serious law enforcement concerns remain unsolved.”Dallas Wingate, candidate for the 20th House District
Parker Selby says she needs to evaluate why a marijuana legalization bill hasn’t passed yet, and research the concerns people have before deciding where she stands.
And while abortion access is a major issue across the nation this year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, that access remains protected in Delaware.
Wingate says he would not introduce or support legislation proposing to change abortion laws in Delaware. Parker Selby says she supports leaving abortion laws in Delaware where they stand now - but expresses concern about how the issue is playing out elsewhere.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a situation on a national level, which can trickle down to the small-town levels, where they need people like myself who have experience, and who are not afraid to speak out and try to do their best to help their communities,” Parker Selby says.
How the House 20th District votes will be interesting to watch. Current State Rep, Steve Smk ran unopposed two years ago - and currently registration numbers in the district are split fairly evenly. Democrats hold a slight 600 voter edge with 54 hundred voters not affiliated with either major party.
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