Now that the Route 24 corridor from Millsboro to Angola has its own state House District, four candidates have emerged to represent the area.
The legislative seat was moved from Wilmington to Sussex County during last year’s redistricting process, reflecting population growth in the southern end of Delaware.
Republican candidates include Dr. Jeff Hilovsky, co-founder of Sussex Eye Center, and Dr. Bradley Layfield, principal of Sussex Central High School.
They’ll face off in a primary election on Sept. 13.
Whoever wins that election will challenge Democrat Keegan Worley and Independent Party candidate Amy Fresh.
Worley is an English teacher and wrestling coach at Caesar Rodney High School.
Fresh is a realtor and owner of Be Yoga Fresh yoga studio in Long Neck.
The district encompasses northeast Millsboro, Oak Orchard, Long Neck, and Angola.
There are 8,660 Republican voters in the district, 7,528 Democratic voters, and 5,245 voters who are unaffiliated or members of a third party.
Most of the area in the new 4th District was previously represented by Republican Rep. Ruth Briggs King.
Delaware LIVE News spoke with all four candidates, all of whom cited infrastructure deficiencies and education as their primary concerns.
Many political observers expect the race to largely be between the two Republican candidates, who didn’t shy away from responding to comments by the other.
They honed in on three specific issues: their capacity to be a full-time legislator, their qualifications based on their job experience, and dredging in the Indian River.
Dr. Jeff Hilovsky
Hilovsky is a career optometrist who served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves as the medical commander for the 512th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base.
He retired from medical practice at the end of 2021 and brands himself as “The ONLY full-time candidate for the 4th District.”
“That’s absolutely not a criticism. That’s a fact,” Hilovsky told Delaware LIVE News. “Mr. Worley is a teacher and I don’t have any qualms about him being a teacher. Dr. Layfield is a principal and, in fact, I teach leadership in his high school as a volunteer, so I don’t have any problems with either of them.”
What he is concerned about, however, is that Delaware lawmakers are in session six months out of the year and have to spend at least three days in Dover each week, not to mention time for constituent service, Hilovsky said.
“That’s 60% of the work week,” he said. “How are they going to manage both and be effective?”
Layfield doesn’t think it will be a problem.
“I absolutely have the time, the commitment, the work ethic, and the dedication,” Layfield told Delaware LIVE News. “21 of our 41 state representatives currently have full-time employment. If you want something done, you ask someone busy and I’ve got a proven track record of being able to do it.”
Layfield pointed to his 5-year experience as chair of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association and said he was able to manage that group and also “keep the school steered in the right direction.”
Worley said when he interviewed for the position with Caesar Rodney, he let them know about his campaign for state representative and they’ve supported him “in every way possible.”
“I haven’t been a legislator before, but I’m no stranger to having to wear multiple hats,” Worley said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to continue teaching and be a legislator.”
Fresh said she agrees with Hilovsky that the other two candidates won’t have enough time to be state representative, but pushed back against the idea that Hilovsky is the only full-time candidate.
“Does Jeff even know that I’m running,” Fresh asked. “I don’t know what he was thinking, but what I do know is that statement is incorrect. I will be maneuvering out of real estate and I have other people who teach in my yoga studio, so no, I’ll be a full-time representative.”
Hilovsky is running on a platform of restoring individual liberties, promoting fiscal responsibility, advocating for public safety, improving public education, supporting small businesses and ensuring election integrity.
He said he never planned on running for office but changed his mind after considering what the world will be like when his grandchildren become adults.
“I was just watching them play — a little girl and a little boy — and it hit me,” Hilovsky said. “They have no voice, no vote and no say, and the world through my eyes is broken.”
He’s worried because the traditions he grew up with are rapidly disappearing, he said. He feels a duty to “try to make their lives better for them and for their friends,” especially because he has the time and energy to do it.
Hilovsky is a conservative because he feels strongly about the values on which the United States was founded, he said, and the Republican Party represents Delaware’s best chance at safeguarding those values.
“We can agree to some of the warts that we have in our past and say, those things, at a different time, at a different place, were looked upon differently and now we look upon them very differently,” he said. “And that’s not bad, that’s not good, that’s just the way it is.
“But the standard tenants by which this country was founded — as a beacon of freedom, that people line up to get here, people sacrifice their fortunes in their countries, they sacrifice for their children, they sacrifice for generations just to come here and experience what we take for granted — those are the type of things that I’m trying to put forth as a candidate.”
More locally, Hilovsky said he’s concerned about congestion along the Route 24 corridor, unsustainable development, a shortage of well-paying, year-round jobs and a failure to teach phonics and civics in public schools.
Dr. Bradley Layfield
Layfield said he’s been a public servant his entire career, from his time as a teacher and coach to his experience leading Sussex Central High School and the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“For 22 years I’ve been all about helping students and their families and now I can help the general public to a greater extent,” Layfield said. “It’s all about constituent services when it comes to local politics and I’m the type of guy that can get things done when you pick up the phone and call with a problem.”
Hilovsky said he’s more qualified than Layfield because Layfield has “never run a business. He’s never signed the front of a paycheck. I ran a business for 23 years. I built a business and I created jobs. He’s never created jobs.”
He pointed out that Layfield has never been in the military, either.
As an Air Force colonel, Hilovsky said he “made life and death decisions, almost on a daily basis,” signed orders for people to go to war and “made decisions on major medical policy” that “affect military medical care to this day.”
Though he’s never owned a business or served in the military, Layfield believes his experience has prepared him to serve the 4th District.
“I manage a very large organization,” Layfield said. “Sussex Central High School employs over 260 employees and manages over 2000 students to educate and feed them.”
That experience, coupled with his work elsewhere, “has given me the opportunity to work with folks and different government agencies and manage sometimes contentious and conflicting points of view, ultimately for the betterment of the people.”
He said he’s not worried that his politics could negatively impact the way he’s viewed by students or faculty at Sussex Central.
“Politics stops at the schoolhouse door,” he said. “We have a very large staff and a very diverse student population and I think we can embrace our diversity, but ultimately respect each other as individuals.”
Layfield’s platform is largely focused on addressing infrastructure deficiencies in the 4th District and the public safety concerns that come along with it.
He said his endorsements from the Delaware State Troopers Association and Correctional Officers Association of Delaware demonstrate that those tasked with protecting the community feel he is best suited to hold the office.
“One of the issues I do not hear a lot from my opponent … is having a laser focus on the Indian River,” Layfield said. “Dredging the upper Indian River because it’s impassable and you can’t navigate it, and ultimately cleaning up the river and increasing the water quality and doing so in a way that doesn’t raise taxes or pile on a bunch of onerous regulations.”
Hilovsky said maintaining navigability in Delaware’s rivers and bays is a priority but said Layfield’s position on the issue needs deeper consideration.
“By the way, he lives on that waterway,” Hilovsky said. “So, I mean, really, you live on the waterway and you want to dredge it? But I can look past that because it would serve other people too — not just him, but it certainly serves him.”
Hilovsky said dredging the upper Indian River requires a “multi-faceted scientific approach” and Layfield “has made this a big deal, but he hasn’t said how he’s going to pay for one iota of it.”
Instead, Hilovsky said leaders need to consider long-term solutions, analyze the cost, consider alternatives and keep water quality at the forefront of any conversation on the issue.
“If we’re not going to address water quality at the same time as we address dredging, then we’re going to have the same problem we just had in a very short period of time because we didn’t find the solution,” he said.
Of all the candidates in the race, Layfield said he’s the most “local.”
“My nieces and nephews are 15th generation, so there’s no real question on my local roots that run awful deep,” Layfield said. “I live in the waterfront house on the Indian River built by my great-grandfather a century ago.”
He added that Hilovsky raised his kids in the area and built a successful business, so “I would not besmirch my opponent by saying he’s not a local.”
Worley, however, “is hardly a local,” Layfield said.
“I’m new to this state in the fact that I’ve only been here for five years,” Worley told Delaware LIVE News. “Well, I’m not planning on leaving — I plan on being here for a long time.
“And the fact that he’s homegrown, that’s wonderful for him. But I think that with the majority of people that we represent, a lot of people are moving and they’re Delaware transplants, so I think that the district is changing, and we need someone who reflects that.”
That influx of new residents is, in part, the key reason Worley is running.
“I’m really looking to bring about some change and provide support for all the people that we’ve seen move here,” he said. “There have been a lot of people moving to Delaware in general, but specifically the 4th District. I think we need to build up some supports to make sure that we can handle all the incoming people that we have.”
Apart from that, Worley’s biggest priority is making sure that children are “mentally and physically safe.”
As a teacher and coach, he said he’s seen the toll that COVID-19 and mass school shootings around the country have taken on kids, and he’s focused on continuing the General Assembly’s work to support mental health in schools.
“I think that we need to provide funding for better safety measures, such as bulletproof glass on classroom doors or deadbolt locks on classroom doors so we can try to make sure that our classrooms are safe places.”
He also hopes to improve access to healthcare in Sussex County, especially because of its aging population and influx of retirees.
While his platform is largely informed by his experience as a teacher, Worley said he would never allow his politics to enter the classroom.
“A teacher should not, by any means, interject their own political opinions into classroom conversations,” he said. “There have been many times throughout the course of my career that we’ve been dealing with some sort of class-related content and politics comes up, and I have always tried to provide both sides to students.”
Worley recognized that, as a Democrat, he faces a statistical disadvantage in the 4th District.
He said he’s a Democrat because he believes that in the Democratic Party, “there’s an overall sense of caring for others versus the self.” As an educator, Worley said he’s tried to make his classroom a safe space where everyone feels included, and he hopes to emulate that in the General Assembly if he’s elected.
There is one candidate, however, who faces an even greater statistical disadvantage than Worley.
Fresh is running as a candidate for the Independent Party of Delaware.
Contrary to popular belief, the Independent Party of Delaware does not represent voters who are not affiliated with any party. It is its own political party with its own defined platform.
As of August, there are nearly 10,000 registered members.
“Being an Independent allows me to look at the issues and the problems in a free, unrestricted way,” Fresh said. “I’m really able to have the interest of the public first, which is important because I feel that sometimes the major parties have failed to serve the people.”
Fresh said that as a certified yoga therapist, she always strives to “find balance.”
“There’s always balance in between two opposing forces,” she said. “You’re going to find neutrality there, so that’s what being an Independent means to me. There’s hot, there’s cold, there’s dark, there’s light, and in the political realm, we’ve got red and blue, but there’s also a neutral point, and that’s being an Independent.”
Like the other candidates, Fresh said she’s predominantly concerned about traffic congestion, overdevelopment, and education.
She does, however, identify as the “Constitutional Independent candidate.”
“I’m a small business owner so I went through the nightmare of COVID that other small businesses went through where the state decided to shut everything down and tell people that they couldn’t go out and make money for their families,” she said.
During the pandemic, Fresh enrolled in a Delaware Constitution class, and that’s how she “learned that our legislators were not following our state Constitution.”
“At the end of the legislature in June, the Democrats were passing bills that they knew were illegal, and they said, ‘we’ll see you in court,’” she said. “But that’s the beauty of being Independent — that’s the balance — if you go too far one way, that’s where tyranny happens. If we go too far the other way, it can happen that way, too.”
Fresh said she’s confident her middle-of-the-road message will resonate with voters who are disaffected with both major political parties.
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