CAMDEN — With Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson’s victory in the primary election Tuesday, the 16th Senatorial District will have new representation in Legislative Hall for the first time in 28 years.
After defeating incumbent Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, and former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kim Petters — and with no competitor in the Nov. 8 general election — Mr. Buckson, 57, will become the district’s lawmaker.
The four-term county commissioner received over 51% of the vote in the primary, while Ms. Petters received 27% and Sen. Bonini about 22%.
The Dover-area’s District 16 has been represented by Sen. Bonini for nearly three decades, and his dedication to the community and years of service are qualities Mr. Buckson “greatly respects.”
As a display of that admiration, the senator-elect said he called Sen. Bonini prior to entering the race, outlining two possible scenarios for the election.
“I really believed that Sen. Bonini would have been a strong candidate for the auditor’s race,” Mr. Buckson said Thursday. “When I called him on the phone and shared my intentions to run for this seat, I asked him to consider the auditor’s race. He declined and said he was committed to the Senate seat, so I said to him, respectfully, that I’m left with no option, and we’re going to have to have a primary election.”
The incumbent, a self-proclaimed fiscal watchdog of government spending, has faithfully voted against the state’s budget bill each year, stating that Delaware had a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
Mr. Buckson questioned the effectiveness of that annual no vote, while also acknowledging that, while on Levy Court, he has voted against the budget on occasion because it was his “only recourse” for “expressing to the voters concerns about spending within a budget.”
“To say that voting no on every single budget is an effective means of that measure, that does not make sense to me,” he said. “In the Senate, I would study the issues involved, I would articulate my concerns with spending, but I do not see the need to vote no on everything that comes down the pike just for the sake of voting no. There is compromise within those walls that I think most constituents can recognize.”
During the last legislative session, Sen. Bonini also took stands against the constitutionality of the state’s vote-by-mail bill — a law the Court of Chancery struck down Wednesday — and a large gun control package, signed by Gov. John Carney in June.
His efforts included a filibuster in the Senate, during which he introduced 25 amendments to the vote-by-mail legislation and later struck 23 of them.
Mr. Buckson said he agrees these laws are unconstitutional, adding that lawmakers needed to “get rid of the emotion” and “follow what the laws on the books say.”
“I believe in the rule of law, and I believe in those laws being constitutionally sound. I believe that our General Assembly, in passing those laws, whether it was mail-in ballots or some of the Second Amendment takings, they are not constitutionally sound, and I believe that the courts are showing that,” he said.
For Mr. Buckson, the motivation to run for the Senate seat was not to just hold the title. It was to continue his involvement in the community he grew up in, as his father did.
The late David P. Buckson presided over the Senate as lieutenant governor from 1957-60. At the end of that term, he became governor for 18 days when J. Caleb Boggs left the office for his first term as U.S. senator.
Prior to that, the elder Mr. Buckson was a Delaware attorney general.
“What I learned and saw from him was that he was welcoming to anyone and everyone in his community,” said Mr. Buckson. “I watched how people would reach out to him from all aspects of the county and the state. They respected him as someone who’s just like them, a regular guy in the community who has the ability to listen and help, and that rubbed off on me.”
Mr. Buckson said he had always desired the 16th District seat, though he was hesitant to run in recent years.
And while he had respectfully communicated his wishes to Sen. Bonini in the past, the timing of the 2022 election worked out perfectly.
“I was busy living my life as someone raising kids, coaching sports and enjoying things that life had provided for me as a Kent County Levy Court commissioner,” Mr. Buckson said.
In June 2021, he retired after 30 years as an administrator, educator and coach in the Polytech and Caesar Rodney school districts. Formerly a local baseball coach and Polytech wrestling coach, Mr. Buckson said he is not coaching currently, as his four children have grown older.
“The circumstances and stars aligned, and I chose to make this the time,” he said. “Father Time is undefeated; I used to be the young guy walking in the room, but I’m no longer that.”
Tuesday’s win, he said, has allowed him to reflect on the ups and downs of his life in politics.
“When I was 40, I ran for (Levy Court) and had my fourth child; when I was 45, I ran a marathon; at 50, I won Coach of the Year for wrestling; at 52, I got in a fight with cancer and won; and at 57, I won the Senate seat. I’ve had a fulfilling middle age, heading into older age,” Mr. Buckson said.
With his mind set on the primary election earlier this year, he consulted with his family. He recalled the moment he made the decision to run: While in the kitchen of his Camden home, he raised the idea to his wife, Jennifer Buckson, and his 87-year-old mother, Patricia.
After informing them of his intentions and asking for their thoughts, Mr. Buckson said the two jumped onboard and asked, “What are we waiting for?” With his wife and mother in support, the soon-to-be candidate knew his four children would be, too, as they had been encouraging him for some time.
After filing June 1, Mr. Buckson kicked his campaign efforts into gear. In the following months, countless campaign signs displaying the messages, “Let’s Go Buckson!” and “Let’s Vote Buckson!” began appearing throughout the district. He also employed a billboard depicting him and his father with the words, “Buckson 16th Senate” and “Common Sense Republican.”
On social media, his campaign released videos of him speaking about various issues, ranging from “mudslinging” on the campaign trail to the Second Amendment. Such posts are old hat, as the first he filmed was years back at a novice wrestling tournament, after parents questioned why participation ribbons were not given to all the athletes.
Since that statement, Mr. Buckson’s messages have resonated with the community.
“The first one I did, I enjoyed it. It caught a lot of attention. Then, I did another one about baseball, and then, all of a sudden, it started to bleed over into some of the topics of the day and ended here with what we have now, and that is a lot of political discussions,” he said.
“I believe that, when I’m in front of a camera, unedited, you have to believe that it’s coming from what I feel and believe in, other than a written statement where I can rewrite, erase and edit.”
The day before the primary, Mr. Buckson shared video of himself at Legislative Hall, encouraging viewers to get out to the polls.
“Tomorrow, Sept. 13, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., it’s game day, baby. I am excited about the opportunity. We put the work in,” he said in the video. “We’ve done the things necessary to put us in position to win. Now, it’s time for our players to do their job. You, we the people, I need you. In fact, I’m confident right now that the teams in the other locker rooms, my two opponents, they’re counting on you to stay home. They expect you to stand down. They just don’t know you like I do.”
Mr. Buckson said he hopes to invoke the “foundation of the Grand Old Party” and get back to what he believes is the true definition of a Republican. He added that his goal is not to fight with the opposition but to say “that we believe in the rights afforded to us in the Constitution and believe in the greatness of this country and this state.”
When the senator-elect takes over the 16th District seat in January, he vows not to make calculated decisions for “political purposes” or personal benefit but to do what is right for the residents he represents.
“I’m worried that, in the General Assembly right now, like the federal government, we’re too worried about being calculated in our positions, instead of just trusting what we think our constituents want,” Mr. Buckson said.
“We need to get into discussions that lead to a better understanding, that can then lead to results. And I think that’s where we’ve started to lose ourselves, but it’s not too late.”