The only Republican woman in Delaware’s General Assembly announced her resignation Wednesday morning.
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown/Millsboro, said she was moving out of her district just over the line into another one, after serving for 14 years.
“To many, this is no surprise since I have been candid and open about the impending changes,” she said in a statement. “As you may know, the 37th District has changed as a result of the recent redistricting, and the lines have moved three times since my first election.
“Each time it has been an honor to meet and serve the constituents of the district. My hope is that my successor will continue placing at the forefront of elected office: quality constituent services, protecting our Constitutional rights, and promoting good governance.”
It’s not a retirement, she stressed during an interview Wednesday morning with Delaware LIVE.
“I’ve had lots of people talk to me about other opportunities or things in the future,” Briggs King said, “and I’ve not moved on them. I’ve not said yes to anything. I’m taking a little bit of a break between the holiday season and we’ll decide what we want to do in the future.”
She said there was a bit of relief in being able to step away from the unrelenting pressure of office, especially when the General Assembly was in session.
“But there’s also this concern that you have some unfinished business,” she said. “I’ve tried to close a lot of things, but there’s so many things that you’re working on and just feel you couldn’t resolve them.”
Among those issues, she said, are helping the homeless and unsheltered, trying to get different agencies to work together on that and other issues, making sure state resources go to toward helping people deal with substance abuse and mental illness, helping Delaware’s military Veterans, keeping people out of prison and instead on probation or parole programs, and trying to raise achievement levels in education and improve what’s happening in classrooms.
“It’s going to be difficult letting go,” she said. “I’ve told people that you may not see me as a legislator, but I bet I will still be nagging and pushing some of these issues.”
A Special Election will be held to find her replacement.
Under state law, the Speaker of the House must issue a Writ of Election within 10 days of the creation of a vacancy in order for that election to take place. The Department of Elections then must set the election for 30 to 35 days later.
In these circumstances, that would put the election right around Christmas.
By state law, the chairperson of the county committee for each political party must name a candidate to run in the Special Election that will be held to replace Rep. Briggs King.
It was open knowledge that Briggs King was building a new house and would resign as soon as she recieved a certificate of occupancy.
Even so, her Republican colleagues said they were sorry to see her go.
House Minority Leader Mike Ramone, R-Newark/Pike Creek, said Briggs King was always the best prepared for sessions of all the members of the Republican caucus, and possibly of every representative on the floor.
“Ruth is an incredible worker,” Ramone said.
As members of the minorty party, a lot of the Republican role is to try to avert unintended consequences, he said.
“When you have one-party rule, having people like Ruth in there who goes over every single scratch of everything in incredible detail with a lot of knowledge is very valuable in the caucus and that’s going to be missed.”
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, who worked closely with Briggs King on area issues, said he was sorry she would be leaving
“It has been an honor serving with Rep. Briggs King in the General Assembly and doing great things for both our mutual constituents and the State of Delaware,” Pettyjohn said. “She will certainly be missed and I wish her well as she embarks on this new chapter in life.”
Ramone said the party hopes to have a strong candidate to replace her and that it would be great if that candidate is a woman.
Republicans in the General Assembly need another woman legislator, he said, but they also need minority representatives who match the diversity of the state’s demographics.
Republicans don’t lack in qualified female candidates, he said, but so far most have not gained traction with voters.
“All we can do is put up the candidate,” he said. “We need the voting public to vote them in.”
Briggs King was first elected in September 2009 during a Special Election for a seat vacated by former State Rep. Joe Booth.
Her favorite memory of serving in the State House was her swearing in after that election, she said.
Her least favorite memory came four years ago, when she was fighting late-term abortion. She had an expert witness and thought the opposition might listen and at least open a dialogue, but couldn’t make a dent.
“Their minds were made up when they came on the floor to vote,” she said. “And the fact is that you can’t persuade or sway or even open conversation, a good dialogue. I think that day was a very difficult day for me with that feeling. You worked so hard and it’s not that you were defeated. They didn’t even listen.”
That’s what happens in a highly partisan legislature, she said.
“When I was first elected, I thought we’ll work on issues and have discussions and people will move one way or the other,” she said. But what I found is that they vote in a block. It’s very hard to get them to step out and vote on an issue. They’ll tell you on the side they don’t agree but, yet, they’ll go ahead and vote in lockstep.”
Even so, she said, “I think it goes without saying that it’s been a pleasure, very much an honor to serve and I don’t think that mindset ever changes. I think it just changes how I do that. The mindset is still there to serve and to and to help do better.”
Briggs King record
One of Briggs King’s biggest accomplishments in the legislature, her statement said, was helping lead the effort to address the opioid epidemic that has spread throughout our state and communities.
She was a prime sponsor of legislation known as “Aiden’s Law” in response to the September 2015 death of 8-month-old Aiden Hundley. The Sussex County child was reportedly born with symptoms consistent with prenatal drug exposure and reportedly died at the hands of his parents, who were later convicted in the crime.
Ruth was a champion of bi-partisan legislation aimed at protecting infants, particularly those exposed to illegal drugs and alcohol during the mother’s pregnancy, through the implementation of better, more improved safeguards established by the state.
She feels that one of her most accomplished tasks throughout her tenure in the General Assembly has been her caring approach to constituent services.
Briggs King calls herself one of the most hands-on legislators in the Delaware General Assembly, remaining as engaged and as responsive as possible with constituents.
She highlighted her work to help preserve the Richard Allen School in Georgetown as an historic, cultural and educational center, as well as her continuing efforts in remaining a strong voice for the Hispanic community — especially as they navigated challenges faced during the pandemic –as two examples of how she continually went beyond what is expected in the service of the citizens she represented.
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During the 2023 legislative session, Ruth has served as a member of the following House committees: Joint Finance; Appropriations; Health & Human Development; Corrections; Judiciary; Public Safety & Homeland Security; Transportation; and Veterans Affairs.
She has accepted major assignments in the legislature, tackling workers’ compensation reform, prevailing wage reform and financial literacy, and serving on the Structural Revenue Review Task Force, the Mental Health Task Force, Educational Funding Task Force, and Retired Employee Benefits Task Force.
Briggs King has served on the Boards for Cheer; the Boys and Girls Club of Riverdale and Oak Orchard; and the Sussex County Community Crisis House.
Education officials were quick to lament her leaving.
“It has been an honor to work with Rep. Ruth Briggs King,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network. “Ruth has been a thoughtful, caring and well rounded legislator that supported all schools. We are grateful for her fierce support of school choice. She will be missed in Legislative Hall. I wish her much joy and happiness as she embarks on her next adventure.”
“Rep. Briggs-King’s resignation is a huge loss for Delaware,” said Britney Mumford, executive director of DelawareCAN, a nonprofit dedicated to improving education in Delaware. “During her tenure on the Education Committee her insight was invaluable. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more prepared or thoughtful in her opinions. In a caucus of men, she was still the toughest and most respected voice in the room. DelawareCAN will truly miss her partnership.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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