Kowalko joined by supporters to protest removal from House committee

The News Journal | by Jonathan Starkey

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf denied he removed Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, from the House Education committee because of differences over education policy or Kowalko’s boisterous opposition to Gov. Jack Markell’s plan to turn around six Wilmington schools.

In his first comments on the dust-up, Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, told reporters Tuesday that Kowalko has lost the ability to cooperate with colleagues on education issues, citing his inability to compromise as the reason behind Kowalko’s removal.

The speaker also called the controversy, stoked by Kowalko’s criticism of Schwartzkopf as a leader who stifles dissent, a “personnel issue” that should not have been litigated publicly. He added that Markell had no hand in bouncing Kowalko from the education committee, or removing his chairmanship of the House Energy committee.

The committee controversy spilled over into the first day of the General Assembly’s new two-year session in Dover. Lawmakers will work through June 30. Five new members of the state House of Representatives were sworn in Tuesday – two new Democrats, and three Republicans.

Kowalko did not ease up on criticism of Schwartzkopf Tuesday, calling a press conference in his office attended by about a dozen supporters, some wearing wigs that resembled Kowalko’s trademark white hair.

He delivered remarks and took questions before Schwartzkopf sat down with reporters.

Kowalko, who sent a sharply critical six-page letter to the speaker on Monday, doubled down on his criticism of Schwartzkopf as a leader who stifles dissent and attempts to rule by fear. “I do not intend to be silent on education issues,” Kowalko said.

Dave Carter, conservation chair of the Delaware Audubon Society, attended the press conference in support of Kowalko. He cited Kowalko’s removal from the education committee as a clear attempt to crack down on dissent, saying such decisions lead to “intellectual inbreeding.”

John Flaherty, president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, said Schwartzkopf should “take a second look” at the decision, adding that policy differences should not factor into committee assignments.

Schwartzkopf, who as speaker has authority to assemble committees for a new two-year legislative session, flatly denied that removing Kowalko from the education committee was related to policy differences or an attempt to stifle dissent.

The speaker said he has not spoken with Kowalko since Jan. 3 and would not consider restoring his membership on the education committee.

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