A Six-Hour Drive with a Future U.S. Senator Named Coons

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is now Justice Kavanuagh.  

Last week, the first story of the fifty-first season of the television newsmagazine Sixty Minutes began with an interview with Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. The two of them became central players in a surprising compromise in the Supreme Court hearings of Judge  Kavanaugh. Like many in our country I was transfixed on the Kavanaugh hearings. I did not plan to be transfixed but more like intensely interested.  

Politically I do not agree with Judge Kavanaugh. I was concerned that his far right views could take a woman’s right to choose away. But at the same time, elections have consequences.  Despite my objections on how the Senate Republicans treated Judge Merrick Garland when he was nominated by President Obama; I felt that the confirmation process had to move forward and I hoped that Senators Collins and Murkowski would vote with Democratic Senators to block Judge Kavanagh from becoming Justice Kavanaugh.(I was only half right as Senator Collins opted to vote for Judge Kavanuagh). 

I spent no time watching the hearings of Justice Gorsich . He was replacing Justice Scalia and it was a conservative for a conservative.  I expected to be paying more attention to the Kavanaugh hearings as background television in my law office. 

Judge Kavanaugh has a very expansive view of presidential powers. It is not inconceivable that he would rule that Donald Trump could not be indicted and also be immune to subpoena as long as he is president. It is not a leap to then believe that Judge Kavanaugh would rule that the president could pardon himself and family members.

Given the entire Russia collusion investigation these are not academic questions. 

And then the allegations from Dr. Ford hit as well as those from several other women.   

At one time Senator Coons and I had a close friendship. It began when he was President of the New Castle County Council and later when he served as County Executive. For a brief time I succeeded him as Chairman of the National Democratic County Officials. We also served on the Board of the National Association of Counties. Most of our interactions were at national county meetings several times a year and of course they were rather brief as there were numerous other attendees and full agendas. 

However, one night in 2008 we spent over six hours together driving from Chicago to Des Moines Iowa. It was just the two of us and we were able to talk about all of the world’s issues in that drive. We had both previously that year been approached by the DCCC to run for Congress in the 2008 cycle. That drive presented an opportunity for two men in very similar situations to discuss the pro and cons of the race we were both considering without any other distractions. In that drive, we ultimately both decided that we enjoyed county government too much to leave and run for Congress. But, during that drive I learned more about Chris in that six-hour period in that rented Chevy than in all the years I knew him previously. I found he was a person of deep faith. Not the kind of faith that pontificates or judges but the purity of love for your fellow human as a child of God. Chris is extraordinarily smart and kind and supremely decent. He is the person you would want to have as a husband, father, brother, neighbor or partner. 

As a result of that drive Chris and I developed a closer friendship.  So close that in one of our conversations in 2010, he advised me that he was thinking about running for the United States Senate against veteran nine-term U.S. Representative and former governor Michael Castle.  Then Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau decided not to make the run and that created an opening. (None of us knew at the time that one of the reasons Beau Biden may not have run was he was not well and sadly ultimately passed away from cancer a few years later.) 

Just by luck and happenstance I was on the phone with Chris as he was once again weighing the pros and cons. We both concluded that he had a difficult if not impossible race, but in the comparatively small political world of Delaware a respectful and quality race it would put him in a positive light if a future opportunity opened. Delaware has such a small population that it has only one member of Congress whose Congressional District takes in the entire state. In effect the Congressman is also the “third” Senator. At that point Congressman/Governor Castle looked unbeatable.  And then quite unexpectedly Castle was defeated by tea party darling Christine O’Donnell in the 2010 Republican primary. I called Chris the next day and said; “you are going to be a United States Senator.” Of course, in the humble unassuming way which is so central to his personality, Chris said, “We still have a general election to get through.”  Chris would have won on the merits but the election was cinched when his opponent had to air a television commercial which began, “I am not a witch.

Of course, as Senator Coons has become busier and busier, I have had much less contact with him. Occasionally, I send him a text when I watch him on television or on the floor of the Senate. But until this past week, it was pretty much “inside baseball” political stuff. This past week the nation got to know a little more about my friend Senator Coons. Over the last eight years, Senator Coons has rightly developed a reputation as a problem solver who may compromise on policy but never on principal. He has also developed a well-earned reputation as a person who keeps his word; which is the coin of the realm in politics. Senator Coons is soft spoken man, but during the Kavanaugh hearings he became the voice of reason of the United States Senate in persuading his colleagues and especially Senator Flake to work together for the benefit of the nation.

On that long drive in 2008 which began at 11 PM and went into the early morning hours, neither of us would have predicted Chris Coons would wind up as a member of the United States Senate but I am so glad he is there and so proud to call him my friend. My guess is that we have just begun to witness the significant positive impact Senator Chris Coons will have on the future of our nation. I predict he will play an important role in the healing which must occur on a bi-partisan manner if we are going to move forward re-building constructive dialogue in the halls of our government.

Lou Magazzu was a Freeholder in Cumberland County NJ from 1998-2011 and the longest serving Freeholder in that county in the last 50 years. He also served as Freeholder Director as well as County Democratic Chairman. He served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties, was the Chairman of the National Democratic County Officials and was President of the New Jersey Association of Counties. He can be reached at Lmagazzu@aol.com.

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