Has Jack Markell Lost the Trust of the Delaware General Assembly?

Filed in Delaware, National by on January 30, 2013

I think he indeed is trending in that direction. Which is not good for Jack, the General Assembly, or the people of Delaware. I think I know why, and I have some ideas as to how he can reverse that trend.

Governor Markell has, at least twice in recent months, blindsided legislators by either changing or muddying his position on key issues:

1. The Port Deal: To my knowledge, nobody has challenged Sen. Marshall’s account that Alan Levin assured him and other legislators that they would have input, public hearings, and ultimately a vote, on any Port deal. Marshall claims that he was also assured that DEDO, the Markell Administration, and the Diamond State Port Corporation, would provide the General Assembly with the necessary information concerning any proposal. That was good enough for Sen. Marshall, who is not a bomb-thrower, and presumably other key legislative stakeholders in the Port’s future. None of those promises came to fruition, none of them. By fall (post-election, of course), neither Markell nor Levin were willing to stick by their promises. They went so far as to suggest/say that the General Assembly was not entitled to have a binding say on the deal’s culmination. They provided no information, they did not commit to public hearings. It was only after they had broken their word that Sen. Marshall and a lot of other legislators felt compelled to get behind SB 3. In fact, the only time, the only time, that Alan Levin argued on behalf of an up-or-down vote, was when the House placed a ‘bleep-you’ amendment on SB 3 providing that, should the General Assembly choose not to have an up-or-down vote on the Port deal, then the deal would not go through. “Not fair, we deserve an up-or-down vote!”, Levin bleated. Ignoring the fact that he, um, was against the up-or-down vote before he was for it.

My years in Dover taught me that you are only as good as your word. Legislators took Markell and Levin at their word last spring. They had no reason to doubt their word. It was only when they went back on their word that we had this imbroglio. Based on SB 3, there is only one group that trusts the Governor: The Senate Rethuglicans, who have their own reasons for keeping this deal in the dark. 40 of the 41 State reps, D and R alike, voted for the amended version of SB 3. The other member was absent, a unanimous rebuke to the Governor. And that’s how he should view it and hopefully learn from it.

2. Gay Marriage: Now stick with me here. The issue is not whether gay marriage is good. I strongly support gay marriage. The issue, once again, is the word of this Governor. Governor Markell was able to rally support for civil unions at least in part by telling legislators that he had no intention of pushing forward on gay marriage any time soon. Why was this important? Because he was able to attract enough legislative support from districts where constituents might view gay marriage as a bridge too far.  Some conscientious legislators were able to get out ahead of their constituents on that issue, and they felt reassured by the Governor that gay marriage was not about to pop up. There are more than a few legislators who are really pissed off that Markell has made gay marriage a high priority so soon after the civil unions bill has passed. Whether you or I like it or not, should he push hard for this, he’s going to put several D and a couple of R legislators in uncomfortable positions. Seats could be lost over this, regardless of what position those legislators ultimately take. Again, the issue is that this Governor went back on his word here. Why? I think he’s positioning himself for higher office, and he thinks that this might help him stand out from the pack, especially since he’s so DLC on fiscal matters. In other words, it’s not the legislators’ careers he cares about, it’s his own. Whether my speculation is accurate or not, we now have two major instances where the Governor has ‘moved the goal posts’.

What has led the Governor to make what I consider to be unforced errors? Well, think about it. What has changed with his administration?

1. He’s lost key people who understand the care and feeding requirements for legislators.  Brian Selander and Tom McGonigle are gone. I have no doubt that they would have provided wise counsel to this Governor, and that the Governor at least would have listened. I don’t know who, if anybody, has that kind of clout to discuss these things with Jack now. For that matter, I don’t know if anybody is trying. Based on the port fiasco, he seems to be leaning more and more on his fellow CEO Alan Levin as his confidant. To put it mildly, CEO’s, even enlightened ones, can only tolerate so much care and feeding of their employees.  And two CEO’s can create that negative synergy of the 1 plus 1=-1 variety. And, lest they might have forgotten, legislators are not the Governor’s employees. Although they do appreciate feeding.

2. He has his eyes on horizons beyond Delaware. Meaning, IMHO, that everything he does here in Delaware has to be viewed in that context, and is being viewed in that context by the legislators. Because sometimes something that might suit your purposes in pursuit of higher office might not suit the needs of Delawareans or, at least, their elected officials. Anyone who saw the News-Journal story that Markell had spent $90,000 in campaign funds to heighten his national profile understands that he is at least looking at running for something beyond Governor. One cautionary note for the Governor: Even those of us who disagree with you on occasion respect your reputation for competence. The Port fiasco put a couple of dents in that reputation. I’d suggest timely repairs.

There’s one other reason why the Governor may have ‘misunderestimated’ the General Assembly:

This is not your father’s General Assembly, nor even the 146th General Assembly. The 147th General Assembly has new leadership, a significant number of new members, and less institutional disposition to defer to the Governor. The impact of Tony DeLuca’s absence is being felt by this Governor, which explains why he campaigned so hard for DeLuca. The Governor controlled DeLuca through both of DeLuca’s ill-gotten jobs (BTW, when former Governor Minner threw all of her not-insubstantial weight behind the leadership team of Thurman Adams/Tony DeLuca, it was the team of Blevins/Marshall that got screwed), and I have no doubt that Tiny Tony would have dumped SB 3 in his desk drawer, something Markell would have loved.  It remains an open question as to whether Speaker Schwartzkopf would have ‘slow-walked’ SB 3 had there not been a public outcry but, once he decided to work it, he went all out to pass it. I’m speculating that the Markell people must have done something to really piss off Pete and the House, otherwise I have no other explanation for that hammer of an amendment that Pete laid on that bill. Were I the Governor, I would have accepted Pete’s initial compromise amendment, and walked away

At least for now, the General Assembly is asserting its co-equal status, and it’s about damned time!

Before I suggest some steps for the Governor to take, an apocryphal riddle:

Q: How many counselors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Only one, but the light bulb really has to WANT to change.

I’ll proceed on the assumption that the Governor really wants to have a strong and effective working relationship with the General Assembly.

1. Sit down and talk with at least these three legislators, and perhaps even offer one of them a job: Past-Speaker Bob Gilligan, and former State Senators Liane Sorenson and George Bunting. In addition to understanding the institutional dynamics of the House, Gilligan has always been a ‘your word is your bond’ guy. Remember Gilligan’s feud with DeLuca over the Delaware State University ‘Inspire’ Scholarships non-vote in the Senate? Senators Sorenson and Bunting are universally respected for their integrity.  Get their perspective on what they see as legislative concerns, and their ideas to mend fences, if needed. Should Jack decide that he needs someone to be his liaison with the General Assembly, he would do well to at least consider them for such a role. Most importantly, however, I think it would help Jack to get some unvarnished feedback from people who have just left the General Assembly as to how they think he could improve relationships with the current members.

2. Refocus on Delaware. I’m not suggesting that he isn’t focusing on the state, but I’d like it if he would ask himself, “Am I doing this purely as Governor, or as someone considering a run for higher office, and how will this impact others in the State, including the legislators?” This is not to say that he shouldn’t challenge legislators when he thinks they are being recalcitrant, just saying that this is a question that he should at least ask.

3. If necessary, mend fences with legislative leadership, especially the D’s. I would think that Jack got the message when he got the amended SB 3 sent to his desk. Seems like the legislators have gripes. Listen and try to at least seek some consensus before going forward with a major policy shift.

I know that this will come across as presumptuous to a lot of people. Call me presumptuous. I just felt that I needed to say this, and to hope that some good comes from it..

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  1. heragain says:

    Can I just say “co-signed”? Some mysteriously tin-ear stuff going on.

  2. Dave says:

    I’m always pretty leery of short term changes/events that are categorized as “trends.” I’d like to see a few more data points and perhaps some identified control limits plus a standard deviation of more than 1 or 2 sigma. It might appropriate is ask if this is a start of a trend but it’s certainly not a trend.

  3. SussexAnon says:

    The Chip Flowers/Gov. drama makes a whole lot more sense now.

    Markell is a business executive. He only works with people to get them to follow him, not the other way around. Thats not how executives work.

    Where does Markell want to go? Head of the DLC (are they even in business anymore?) DNC Chair? (he really isn’t a party building kinda guy.) Cabinet position? Senate?

    And MSNBC was just running a headline that there is a shooting in a Pheonix office complex.

  4. Demented Dems says:

    Nobody cares where he goes as long it is out of Delaware. Big ego who has accomplished ZIPPO as Governor except play himself up.

  5. Dave: While I take your point about the anecdotal instead of the empirical, I maintain that legislators other than the ‘usual suspects’ are talking about it. So, to them at least, it’s a problem.

  6. PainesMe says:

    Aren’t there some kind of restrictions on hiring a legislator fresh off the floor to be a legislative liaison?

    SussexAnon – Never really seemed like Markell was all that much into campaigning. Cabinet position would be my guess.

  7. kavips says:

    Nice job on this. I’ve been seeing the same trends. Which is kinda strange since one would think Markell who bucked the party to get in would realize that bonding with voters is the real key, and not doing as did his predecessor, insulating oneself and riding out the storm for four years.

    In his defense, if I lost my right hand, I wouldn’t be very good at tennis either…

  8. PainesMe: No rule that I’m aware of. We don’t even have a one-year revolving door bar on legislators returning as lobbyists. Plus, they needn’t even have the title of ‘Legislative Liaison’ even though that might be their pricipal role.

    Markell LOVES campaigning. A day doesn’t go by when he’s not doing at least one or two photo ops.

  9. SussexWatcher says:

    Selander was the most politically astute guy there. Now he’s got two tone-deaf lawyers and a Patterson.

  10. AQC says:

    I’m prepared to get attacked, but, I think you guys are being too hard on him. When he supported civil unions liberals were angry at him for not pushing for marriage. He pushes for marriage and now it’s too soon. I get the point about breaking his word, but maybe he’s just trying to get things done. He has been fairly progressive, given quite a few constraints. And, so what if he’s positioning himself for higher office? When you know your job term is finite, you look for the next better thing.

  11. Norinda says:

    “After a busy couple weeks in Dover, Gov. Jack Markell is cooling off in the Swiss Alps at the World Economic Forum’s elite annual meeting in Davos. Markell left for Switzerland late Thursday, following his budget address, and will stay through the weekend.

    On Friday, Markell met with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss “common interests” between U.S. governors and the United Nations, and participated on a panel to discuss energy and efficiency.

    Markell spokeswoman Cathy Rossi said the goal of the governor’s trip is to “meet and develop relationships with key international and business leaders” and establish a connection between the National Governors Association and the World Economic Forum. On Saturday, Markell was scheduled to meet with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company that employs hundreds of people in Delaware, Rossi said, but did not give the name of the executive.”
    May I Say Mo More!!
    Next Stop in February, India and this trip is subsidized by our tax dollars. Maybe he owes his outside Super PAC Domors some favors,Committee For A Better Future, Sell Off the Port of Wilmington a state asset for a nice pay day.
    Cabinet Position or a Run for President. Hummmmmmmmm

  12. Norinda says:

    Yeah Right he’s fairly progressive!. The governor is strategic and calculated. How about creating high quality jobs for thousands of people who are still unemployed throughout the state. The Fisker Fiasko can I say no more. He and Alan Levin kep the lights on for > 9 months until after the election in November to let the public know the deal went up in smoke. Fisker left Delaware in 2010. $29 million in subsidized clawback tax dollars gone up in smoke. Civil Unions is just another way to get the progressive Democratic vote for his next great strategic plan. The Governor is a Corporate Democrat=Moderate Republican. Where is the Public Outcry or Public Transparncy.

  13. Dave says:

    Both the left and the right are mad at Markell. He wins his second term with 70% of the vote. Seems like he is pretty close to the middle. I agree he is a centrist. The descriptor does not need to include Democrat or Republican, just moderate or centrist is sufficient. While there are some things I wish he might do differently, overall I’m pleased with his performance.

    I recognize that there are folks much more progressive and more conservative than I, but honestly believe that those who govern from the center govern best. While change should not be glacial, rapid change ends up in revolution. I’ll take the slow and steady, even if sometimes I think it’s too slow.

    The reason there is no public outcry is that most people are centrist, regardless of their party affiliation.

  14. Jason330 says:

    There is a difference between being a political centrist and devotee of failed Republican economic theories regarding the mythical “trickle down” effect that attends corporate tax evasion.

    To the delight of their benefactors – Carney, Coons, Carper & Markell all take advantage of the public’s ignorance of the difference.

  15. This article is not about the merits of either the Port deal or gay marriage. It’s about Jack’s working relationship with the General Assembly.

    It’s not about who’s mad at him for ideological reasons, it’s about whether he has lost, or is losing, the trust of the General Assembly. And, if he is losing that trust, how can he reverse the trend?

    AQC: Going back on your word is the easiest way to lose trust with the General Assembly. And it’s not so easy to get it back.

  16. SussexWatcher says:

    Well, TNJ is paying attention, if nobody else …

  17. Norinda says:

    El Somnambulo,
    In Dover, You Do Not Renig on Your Word! Selling off a major state asset without legislative oversight which the Governor promised to Senator Marshall is a huge blunder! Let’s start “old school”- A Public Apology.

  18. Yep, SW, and they’ve got the lobbyists on speed dial–Rhett Ruggerio, Bobby Byrd, Rich Heffron. Presumably because they have more wisdom than anybody else. Although I think it’s more like interviewing the rats about the impending sinking of the Titanic.

    Also on the front page of TNJ–Kinder Morgan doesn’t like public scrutiny. Who knew?

  19. Yet more reasons the News-Journal sucks.

    Today’s article on Markell’s second-term growing pains mentions the influx of new leaders and new legislators as one of the reasons for the new pushback from the General Assembly. So, of course, going to primary sources, they interview Patti Blevins, Gary Simpson and Greg Lavelle who, together, have 47 years of legislative service. Not one of these (even relatively) new legislators is even interviewed. Pathetic.

    Also, with their other front page story about Kinder Morgan, you would think that they would place Rhett Ruggerio’s remarks in context by pointing out that he lobbies for Kinder Morgan. You would think wrong.

    Maybe we at DL should establish a ‘non-pay’ wall for News-Journal reporters. If they’re gonna poach our stuff, at least do the stuff that only journalists, as opposed to bloggers, can do.

  20. cassandra_m says:

    That NJ article sure had plenty of lobbyists weighing in. It was sort of distasteful, actually.

    But I wonder if one part of the overall problem isn’t the fact that Markell and the GA had been is crisis management mode for much of the last 4 years. It is easier to get people rowing in the same direction when you are all in some trouble, but now that it looks like we’ve survived, it looks to me that the Governor has not done the work to keep some of that rowing going.

    But even more, now that we seem to have survived the crisis, it is time to stop acting like there is still a crisis. Funneling money to businesses financed by not giving raises to people who work for the state isn’t especially progressive or fair. A DOE that always looks focused on rearranging its own deck chairs rather than focused on improving the schools that need it isn’t progressive or fair. Working at privatizing a major state-owned asset without disclosing the details of that deal to the people who own it isn’t especially progressive or fair.

    And I voted for Jack twice. And I like him. But getting out of crisis management and figuring out how to help the neighborhoods and Delawareans who lost some support during the financial crisis regain some ground. And improvements to these neighborhoods won’t wash away in the next Nor’easter, too.

  21. Jonathan Starkey says:

    Thamks for reading, Steve

  22. No, Jonathan. Thank YOU for reading.

  23. @10:42 Very good comment, Cassandra.
    @10:25 AGREED.
    @Jonathan Starkey – hey, you could have picked up the phone and called El Som for comments and written in some credit for the subject matter, not to mention calling a few of the newest AG members.

  24. Nah, for all we know, TNJ was working on something similar, and we just happened to post ours earlier.

    I only wish that, if one of the threads of your story revolves around the major changes in the composition of the General Assembly, then you talk to at least ONE of those agents of change.

    I’ll give you another example. I can’t BEGIN to count up the number of years that Byrd, Heffron and Ruggerio have spent in Dover. But their meme that stuff like this always happens at the beginning of the second (lame duck) term is not accurate. I submit that these guys can’t assimilate the degree of change that (I believe) is happening.

    In other words, the same old sources just don’t provide for an accurate context as to what’s going on in Dover. I hope that message gets across to those covering this.

    There’s a fascinating story here. Don’t miss it.

  25. Jason330 says:

    This is my ‘not holding my breath’ face.

  26. SussexWatcher says:

    I doubt that’s really Starkey.

  27. CrazyDem says:

    Very good comments Cassandra, however, some of the problem is in the House. Remember that the House was split when it came to selecting its leadership. Although the new leadership is trying to pull both sides together – it hasn’t really happen. The Speakers stand on Kinder Morgan was an effort to keep the non-supported side happy! Plus he didn’t have the votes to do anything else. He is also trying to show that he is not a puppet for Markell – an opinion that was voiced during the leadership selection process. The Senate seems to be in the Governor’s pocket – should be interesting to see how the relationship between the Senate and House develop. The Governors new team hasn’t really helped to build a solid relationship with the GA yet. Their style of telling the GA what they will do – isn’t working!!

  28. So far, the only senators who appear to be in the Governor’s (and Alan Levin’s) pockets are the Senate Rethugs.

    On what basis of fact do you claim that the Senate is in the governor’s pocket?

  29. cassandra m says:

    I’d like to know how you see the Senate in the Governor’s pocket, too. Really the entire GA is in flux — loyalties and allegiances don’t seem settled so until they work out the new landscape there’s probably more drama in store.

  30. DELaw says:

    None of this is too surprising to me. I am a Dem but no fan of Jack. I think he’s been a bland, ineffective governor whose main accomplishment has been luring an electric car company to Delaware which has yet to build a single car and may never do so.

    If the DE GOP was something other than a bunch of stale hacks who can’t seem to find decent candidates, I might consider voting for a Republican cut out of the Castle/Dupont model.

    (Of course, one might say that by voting for Jack, one has already voted for a moderate Republican.)

    Yet for all of his ineffectivness, Markell will have had the most impact on Delaware’s judiciary of any governor I can remember, which troubles me. He has nominated 12 judicial officers so far, and perhaps two more are coming this year. Some of these were reappointments but he has had the opportunity to appoint five new Superior Court judges so far during his tenure and has flubbed many (but not all) of them. Even ol’ Ruth Ann did a better job of appointing decent judges than Markell has.

  31. cassandra_m says:

    DELaw, why would you say he has flubbed appointments? I’m not up to speed on the legal personalities and systems enough to know much at all about the quality of judicial appointments here.

  32. The People's Port says:

    Another Reason to Can this Port Deal with Kinder Morgan.
    No Disclosure of this Accident!!!

    Biodiesel leaked from Carteret, NJ terminal: Kinder Morgan

    By Reuters Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – About 238 barrels (some 10,000 gallons) of biodiesel leaked from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners’ Carteret, New Jersey terminal after storm Sandy devastated the U.S. East Coast, the company said on Tuesday.

    The fuel spilled into nearby Rum Creek and reached the Arthur Kill waterway, which separates Staten Island in New York City from New Jersey.

    The spill “was contained within a day of the storm passing and recovery efforts have been completed”, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Emily Mir said in an email.