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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Harris McDowell announces plan to retire at end of term

June 30, 2019

The longest-serving legislator in Delaware history announced Sunday that he will not seek re-election to a twelfth term in 2020.

Sen. Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington, made the unexpected announcement as he introduced the Grant In Aid Bill for Fiscal Year 2020, the final piece of legislation passed on the final day of the 2019 legislative calendar.

“I didn’t know I was going to say this when I woke up,” McDowell told his colleagues in the Senate, where he has served since 1976. “It’s not just been a pleasure to serve with you all. It’s been an honor … I will leave you all with the knowledge that I’m so proud of you and what you do … I’ll be here with you in spirit.”

McDowell has served as the co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee since 2010. During his legislative career, he also was instrumental in the creation of the Delaware Department of Children, Youth and Families, helped thousands of Delaware students attend college through the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarship program, and saved countless Delaware seniors money through the Senior Property Tax Credit.

He also is a recognized leader in energy and environmental matters, having championed the creation of the first low-income heating assistance program in the country. He also was central to the creation of the Delaware Energy Office, the Delaware Public Advocate Office, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and the Sustainable Energy Utility.

Delaware’s second-longest serving state lawmaker, Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest, said he cannot image the Senate without his long-standing colleague.

“In a lot of ways, Sen. McDowell is the Senate,” he said. “He’s accomplished so much in the four decades he’s been here and he’s been a mentor to me. He’s a passionate, incredible guy and an inspiration to us all. That includes long-timers and freshmen. I honestly cannot imagine Legislative Hall without him.’

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, called the 79-year-old lawmaker “an institution.”

“This place is better with Harris McDowell here,” he said. “Harris is that classical liberal and I’ve got to tell you, I think that voice is incredibly important … He wants to convince you. He has good data to convince you. And occasionally, he did.”

McDowell is the son of Harris B. McDowell Jr., who served in both the Delaware House and Senate before a stint as Secretary of State and later five non-consecutive terms in the U.S. House.