A number of Delaware’s bloggers were invited to a Governor’s Roundtable with Governor Markell this morning at his offices in Wilmington. Cassandra, Unstable Isotope, Jason330, El Somnabulo, and myself attended from Delaware Liberal, as well as Nancy Willing from the Delaware Way, and Tom Noyes from Tommywonk. The good folks at Delaware Politics were also invited, but David Anderson indicated that they would not be able to come. As an aside, and maybe it is a measure of Delaware Liberal’s success in attracting so many contributors to its ranks, but I am not pleased that the blogosphere in general (progressive and conservative) seems to have shrunk. But that is an issue I will address in another post later today.
The Governor invited us to this roundtable for two reasons. The first was stated, the second less so but obvious nonetheless. First, it has been nearly two years since our last meeting in March 2009. Personally I was shocked by that, and I thought there had other meetings more recently and frequently. But I suppose that is a function of living in a small state where I get to see and speak with Governor Markell and Senator Coons and Congressman Carney and Senator Carper and Lt. Governor Denn on a number of occassions. So we need to schedule these meetings more frequently. And I imagine they will be scheduled more frequently as 2012 approaches.
Secondly, this roundtable was scheduled so that Governor could push back against recent criticism from some corners, including here at Delaware Liberal, that his budget did not reflect progressive priorities, and that those who were hurt the most by the Great Recession are being asked to sacrifice the most, while those who suffered the least are being protected the most. El Som made that criticism both here at DL and to the Governor this morning. You can tell that criticism stings him, so he wanted a chance to respond, a chance I will give to him now. El Som, Unstable Isotope, Cassandra and perhaps even our illustrious founder, Jason330, will offer their takes on today’s meeting in either separate posts or in the comments below.
First off, the Governor does not view governing as a battle. Politics and elections may be a battle, and Jack Markell has suited up for those battles in the past and will again in the future. But he said he is the Governor of the all Delawareans, not just those that who happen to be Democrats and not just those who agree with him on the issues. He said he prefers the respective engagement and discussion in governing as opposed to the conflict style that other governors in other states employ, such as Chris Christie in New Jersey or Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Jack Markell is obviously an man of opinion and ideas, otherwise he wouldn’t be Governor in the first place. But in governing, his opinions and ideas take a back seat until he has heard all sides. For example, I asked him about the possibility of the General Assembly passing a bill allowing medical marijuana and would he sign it if it got to his desk. He said he is not sure yet, though he is aware of the medical pain relieving benefits it has. He said he has met with advocates for the allowance of medical marijuana, but he has not yet met with opponents, and he has to study the issue more, including what other states have done.
Now, could that be a dodge? Sure. Medical Marijuana is a political hot potato. But I think I am going to give the Governor the benefit of the doubt on this because he seemed sincere in his view of governing. And if he were to answer my question the way I wanted him to (“Why yes, I am for medical marijuana in Delaware, but I will have to look at the bill to see if certain concerns are addressed”), it will appear to opponents of medical marijuana that he has a closed mind to their concern.
Second, Jack Markell is a good politician. He was asked about marriage equality, another hot potato, by Unstable Isotope, who will offer her opinion on the topic and the Governor’s answer later today. Markell said he is for civil unions and has been focused on getting that bill through the General Assembly. He would not answer U.I.’s follow-up about full fledged marriage equality, saying that he had not considered marriage equality because he was focused on passing the Civil Unions bill. Now, this answer will piss Progressives off as it will be seen as a less than full throated support for equality, one more equivocation to a group tired of equivocations from the politicians it supports.
But let’s consider for the moment why he gave that answer. Passing the Civil Union bill is not as easy a slam dunk that we all think it is. It is going to be a close vote. Apparently a number of legislators are concerned that allowing Civil Unions is a stepping stone to allowing full marriage equality, and apparently to them that is a bad thing. Many politicians, including President Obama, and many citizens, support civil unions but oppose marriage equality, although Obama recently said his views are evolving on the marriage issue. It makes no logical sense to us, because you are either for discrimination or against it. Yet, there are those who want to allow gays to have the legal benefits of marriage but they have this mental block when it comes to allowing gay marriage. Yet, over time, we find more and more people, even Republicans and conservatives, approving of gay marriage. Why? Well, because it is a generational issue, with the dying off older generations opposed and the younger generations seeing no problem with it. And support for it increases once people see that the world does not end once gay relationships are given legal status. Indeed, it is particularly helpful to see that Massachusetts, Iowa, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and, for a time, California all did not fall into the sea or descend into Hell merely because they allowed gay marriage.
Governor Markell did not say he was opposed to marriage equality, and he did not say he is for it. He is playing the waiting game, with a focus on passing Civil Unions bill first to allow time for opinions to evolve. That’s smart politics. But it angers some of us because it is pragmatic.
Indeed, the Governor’s answers to our questions revolved around that central theme of pragmatism versus purity. He describes his job as a “balancing act.” His administration has to attract businesses to Delaware and getting them to create jobs here. His administration has to keep businesses that are already here from not only laying off more people, but to create jobs. He has to submit a balanced budget that provides enough revenue for essential services, that makes sure that every Delawarean can get a good job, send their children to good schools all the while breathing clean air and drinking clean water. So, would he want to create new tax brackets on upper incomes to raise more revenue so that he would not have to cut benefits or state jobs or services? Sitting across from him this morning, I got the impression that he might, but can’t.
Jack Markell is a businessman, and he knows how other businessmen think. He knows what is on their pro v. con balance sheet when it comes to making big decisions on relocation or hiring and firing. When comes to jobs and taxes and budgetary matters in the State of Delaware, he is very much aware that Delaware is but one player in a competition of many. He believes that in order to attract jobs and businesses, Delaware must remain an attractive place to do business, and that means reasonable taxes, fees and regulations.
But does that mean he would engage in a race to the bottom, gutting regulations and cutting taxes and insert loopholes whenever a business makes such a demand? He says no, and that he has said no to such businesses making such demands And Jack Markell has not been afraid to raise fees and taxes when closing the budget deficit demanded it. In fact, in 2009, (and they probably don’t want this headline), the Markell Administration presided over the largest tax increase in Delaware’s history. He has sought a more equitable division of revenues between the casinos and the state. He has raised the Estate Tax. He has raised fees. All to raise money to balance the budget and avoid cutting essential services. Indeed, Markell points out that his budget provides more money for foster care, for the employment of the cognitively disabled, and more funding to hire more teachers.
So Governor Markell chaffes at suggestions that his budget requires no sacrifice from more affluent while cutting services for the poor. He also chaffes at the notion that his administration has not accomplished many progressive goals. He read off a list of those accomplishments at the end of our meeting: the eminent domain bill, the FOIA bill, the civil rights bill for gays and lesbians, expanding CHIP, extending Protection from Abuse Orders from one to two years, the four gun control proposals he has made recently, protecting Medicaid from cuts so far, and he is proud of not only providing funding for 100 new teachers two years in a row but also Delaware’s success in the Race to the Top program.
That this blogger roundtable even occurred today or in March 2009 shows that he Jack Markell respects our opinions and wants our support. Has he done enough so far? The answer to that question depends on how you view politics: through a purist or a pragmatist prism? He would argue, and I would agree, that he has achieved a number of progressive goals, listed above. And that he has gone about balancing the budget in a relatively progressive manner, rather than slashing services and jobs. He believes his administration and the way it has been conducted thus far should be seen in contrast to such Republican debacles in Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida and Texas. And in a country where everyone is asking “Where are the jobs?,” Governor Markell can be credited with attracting new businesses and new jobs to vacant refineries and automotive plants.
Is there more to be done? I think the Governor would agree that his job is not over, and I even think he is going to ask for a contract extension next year. So obviously he thinks there is more to be done.
So those are my voluminous thoughts, trying as best I can to relay the Governor’s message. I do this because I view politics through a pragmatic prism. I look forward to reading my colleague’s opinions as well as our commenters.