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..