The First State races: Governor

Posted: 08/31/2008 by ttownjotes in Delaware, election, governor, Politics
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Once again, I appreciate Elbert allowing me to take some of his space. Feel free to add your two cents if you’re a Delaware voter, and even if you’re not like I’m not!

The third and final part of my look at Delaware’s upcoming election focuses on their highest state office, that of Governor. With current Governor Ruth Ann Minner forced out by term limits, the office is opened up for the first time since 2000.

Four people are on the ballot to succeed Minner, according to the Delaware Department of Elections. However, it’s my understanding that Mike Protack, shown by the DDE on the GOP ballot, is also going to be on the November ballot under the auspices of the Independent Party of Delaware – not without controversy, though. Bill Lee is the second candidate on the Republican site, while State Treasurer Jack Markell and current Lieutenant Governor John Carney make up the Democrat field.

Unlike the last two installments, which dealt with federal offices and were shaped to conform with my personal pet issues, in this edition I’m going to look at issues the candidates themselves emphasize in common, with at least three of them having positions on the issue which I can study and evaluate. Moreover, with the exception of Lee, I can simply link to the appropriate webpage. (Protack has a particular webpage to address issues but it’s more convenient in his case not to blockquote and just paraphrase his main points.) It leaves less for me to clip in and more opportunity for my two cents. There are six common issues which meet the criteria, and it’s also worth noting that the four seem to prioritize their sites according to the importance they deem the issue to the voting public – so I’ll place their ranking with the sextet of common issues.

  • Education – except for Markell, all the others had this first. Markell listed it seventh.
  • Jobs – Markell had the issue ranked first, Lee and Carney second, and Protack ranked it third.
  • Health Care – Protack made this issue second-highest, Lee and Markell third, and Carney placed it fourth.
  • Energy – Markell placed this second, Carney third, and Protack sixth. Lee did not go into the issue.
  • Government Reform – Lee made this his fourth priority and Protack his third, while Markell placed a similar category of Fiscal Responsibility tenth. Carney did not address the issue, which sort of makes sense because the others are speaking of the current team in charge.
  • Public Safety/Crime – Markell laid this in his sixth spot, while Lee and Carney made this seventh.

These are the six issues I’ll compare and contrast the positions on today. Instead of a numerical system, I’ll simply point out who I think has the advantage in each party when I summarize at the end.

Education:

Carney: John divides his education platform into Early Childhood Education, K-12, and Higher Education.

Regarding the ECE proposal, let’s say right up front that I don’t see a real reason to extend formal schooling any earlier in life. Unfortunately, too many parents think of school as a babysitting service which raises their kids from 8 to 3 each weekday and gives them a break to work their job. Carney vows to make this a “priority” and wants to form yet another committee to deal with the issue and (of course) throw more money at the problem. I do applaud the nod to private and non-profit providers at the end, in fact there’s already many that teach children the basics without a single change in the system in place. It’s simply up to the parents who need that service to find them.

Now let’s move up to the “normal” schooling which occurs in K-12. Carney goes through a laundry list of suggestions that seem to have been written by the Delaware State Education Association teachers’ union. For example, what would the criteria for a “master teacher” be, simple seniority? Obviously there would be a revised pay scale for master teachers and methinks it’s not one which saves local school districts money, nor would giving new teachers health benefits immediately. Carney also troubles me by wanting to see the Delaware Department of Education take a more active role in areas parents should control, while on the other hand paying lip service to wanting more parental involvement through enhanced communication. And why do the two Democrats in the race hate the achievement test so much?

Carney seems to think when addressing higher education that there’s not enough communication and opportunity for students, since much of his plan speaks to those concerns. But when he asks the state to create a continuous funding mechanism for Delaware Tech, it’s code for either a funding mandate which has to come from someplace else or a tax for Delaware residents and businesses to pay.

Lee:

Delaware’s school children need a Governor who has the political independence to say that we will pour no more money into a broken education system until we’ve fixed it, until teachers and administrators are held accountable, not just our children. Then we’ll spend what it takes to attract and retain our nation’s best teachers because quality teachers are the key to quality education. Then we’ll give them the authority and tools they need to do their job. One thing that we can do immediately is increase the percentage of our education dollars spent in the classroom, which means more resources for our students and teachers and a forced reduction in administrative costs. We will also protect and preserve a parent’s right to choose their child’s school. That right is under heavy attack from the special interests who thrive in our broken, status-quo, bureaucracy-driven education system. School choice and charter schools are a necessity for parents and children who have been failed by our current system and must be protected.

While it’s obviously more vague and less verbose than the others’ plans, I agree with several key points. Teachers and administrators should be held more accountable because they’re being paid with your money, whether through school taxes or private school tuition. Furthermore, that money should go as closely to the child who’s being educated as possible, not used to hire yet another paper-pusher. And I’m a huge fan of school choice, which is a great way to address the shortcomings of teachers’ unions. The only scary part is talking about spending “what it takes” because I’m doubtful the money is there as things stand now to do so.

Markell: Like Carney, Jack subdivides his educational program but in different order, beginning with higher education, then addressing high-school age children with the concept of workforce education before turning to early childhood. Markell also points out his ideas to attract teachers and deal with special education in this paper and, finally, discusses accountability. In total, it’s about 20 pages of reading so Markell has done his homework.

Much of what Jack advocates has been tried in other states with some success, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But what works in one state may not do so well in Delaware, and it’s worthy of mention that Delaware’s per-pupil spending ranks 8th in the nation but results lag that spending level. Markell believes he can bring more bang for the buck with his plans and also wishes to reduce the amount of control at the state level, which is admirable. Jack is firmly in favor of bringing the worlds of business and education together.

In theory, aligning the interests of business and the learning institutions which train their future employees makes sense. But education shouldn’t be completely about training for the working world; my contention is that true education isn’t complete without a dose of teaching critical thinking. That’s the missing piece of the Markell plan insofar as education is concerned. I do applaud one of Markell’s higher education ideas, though, and that’s the introduction of what he terms early and middle college. Ohio adopted this some years ago and it became possible for some sharp students to bypass two or three semesters of college by taking the courses as part of their high school work.

Protack: Mike places his educational ideas in the form of questions (in this case under “Education” here), and this political game of Jeopardy brings up some good things to ponder. (One thing I’d like him to ponder is a separate web address for each category.) In essence, Protack would prefer a revised testing system, increased accountability of tax dollars through streamlining bureaucracy, more local control, and my favorite, year-round school. (If adults work throughout the year, kids should too.)

The education of Delaware’s students will likely be impacted the most if Protack or Markell are elected. To me, Lee’s ideas are a slightly more efficient status quo while Carney is far down in the tank of the teachers’ unions with much of his educational platform. But because he wants to protect charter schools, Lee probably has the best ideas with Markell and Protack both a close second. (A weakness of all four is a failure to address or embrace homeschooling.)

Jobs:

Carney: John subdivides his economic plan into five areas: business climate, business-labor relations, science and technology jobs, workforce development, and women/minority businesses. (Would John not be a good Democrat if he didn’t subdivide the universe of business owners as he has?)

Overall, the largest criticism I have comes from the Business-Labor Council Carney wants to create. Another group of connected individuals who meet on the state dime to discuss how to create more union jobs. (With unionized workers being a small percentage of the workforce, how is it that they co-chair this group?) It’s more of the same concept of the state giving assistance to small businesses in everything except loosening the regulations under which they labor. Also telling is that Carney would “hold the top personal income tax rate among the lowest in the nation with no sales tax and continuing to cut personal and business taxes as revenues allow.” (Emphasis mine.) But any increase in spending obviously requires more revenue and eliminates any possible tax cutting. It instills deniability into the campaign – Carney can say that he meant to cut taxes but conditions didn’t allow that to happen.

Lee:

Every Delawarean deserves the opportunity to have a good, high-paying, stable job. Under the current administration, those opportunities have evaporated due to a lack of real effort. Economic development under Ruth Ann Minner and John Carney has been an unmitigated failure, and the people of this state have suffered long enough. To restart our economy, it will take investment in the right areas; a driven, focused effort and a full overhaul of our state government. Our focus must first be on small businesses, our leading employers, and particularly those struggling to survive in today’s economy. I look forward to rolling out a detailed plan to do those things in the fall campaign.

If I lived in Delaware, I’d look forward to it as well. Hopefully it will speak to the concept of getting government out of the way as much as possible and maintaining Delaware’s reputation as a pretty business-friendly state. I like the focus on small business though because that’s where many of the employment opportunities lie, and anything that can make entrepreneurs feel more comfortable about their chances would be helpful.

Markell: Jack devotes 21 pages to the subject, so comprehensive would be an apt description for his plan. And when he vowed last fall to bring 25,000 new jobs to Delaware I took notice because a few of those jobs would spill over the border to those of us living in the Salisbury area. I thought mine was a detailed enough criticism that I could simply reuse it and life could go on. (My effort at recycling.)

Protack: Under the category “Jobs & Growth“, Mike pushes the idea of a plan to a coalition of business and labor leaders and a “balanced growth” philosophy with local planning and the state handling infrastructure. I think where I have an issue with Mike is on the job growth plan, as in why he didn’t already have this done, or at least vet ideas he already has with leaders in the business community? It reminds me of one of those blue-ribbon panels which Congress uses to close military bases – the unpopular decisions are blamed on someone else. The other idea sounds good in theory, but it would be helpful to have an example where this is already practiced.

All politicians worth their salt will say anything that they think the public wants to hear about creating jobs. It’s unfortunate that Bill Lee hasn’t completed his plan for creating jobs because it would be a good compare and contrast to Jack Markell’s relatively moderate ideas on the subject. Can Lee deliver on the potential he’s established? On the other hand, John Carney appears beholden to the special interests that got him the Democratic endorsement and it shows in his economic wish list. Lastly, Mike Protack seems to be out of his league on this issue.

Health care:

Carney: John is an advocate of so-called universal health care, which would mean in his vision that First State residents and businesses would shoulder the load to pay for primary and preventive care. While he says the state will subsidize this care based on the income of the recipient of said care, what he really means is that wealth will be redistributed from those who have it to those who don’t.

Not only that, John discusses health disparities among blacks and Hispanics, and continues to pander with a call to diversify the health care workforce. And how would he pay for all this? Since everyone will be required to have health insurance, employers who choose not to offer it would be slapped with a payroll tax, smokers will pay through increased tobacco taxes, and freestanding surgical centers who are deemed to not provide enough charity care would have an assessment levied on their businesses. Oh, and Delaware will try to get more money out of the federal government while attempting to raise the income cap for eligibility for Medicaid and SCHIP.

Lee:

Delawareans do not want the state government making their healthcare decisions. They want to make those decisions themselves with the counsel of their doctor. A move to greater state control of health care is a disaster in waiting. The principles that should drive our effort to improve healthcare in Delaware are personal ownership, choice and competition. Combining those principles will drive costs down, options up and more people onto the rolls of the insured.

And Bill has hit the nail right on the head in a very succinct manner. Rolling back regulations and mandates on what needs to be covered would encourage more companies to enter the market and prices to decrease.

Markell: Again, Jack has a comprehensive plan and in turn I’ve already written a piece on it. Admittedly, my criticism of Markell in this case is Maryland-centric because we had a Special Session underway at the time but I think it’s relevant enough for Delaware voters to understand even without knowing Maryland’s inside baseball.

Protack: Without saying the actual term, the leading questions that Mike has come up with in his Health Care category lead me to think he’d also like a plan similar to Carney’s and Markell’s. He also talks about tort reform, though, and that would almost need to be a requirement if the state becomes a primary insurer – otherwise you’re talking about some seriously deep pockets to be picked.

Obviously Bill Lee stands out here as the bastion of sanity in a field who will otherwise doom Delaware to the tax-draining morass of government-sponsored healthcare.

This is the last of the issues all four candidates delved into. The final three issues are not addressed by one of the four who seek the state’s top job, at least not on their campaign site. We’ll begin with energy.

Energy:

Carney: John lumps the energy issue in with his ideas for the environment. Naturally, he’s all in favor of developing alternative, renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar energy, and non-food biofuels but doesn’t bring up the fact that these energy sources are several years away at best and will probably come at a pricing premium to Delaware users when compared to conventional sources, unless heavily subsidized. Carney also favors getting into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which was our bad idea here in Maryland.

Bill Lee doesn’t address energy so we’ll move on.

Markell: Jack has both an energy page and an energy conservation plan. Let me begin by saying that anyone who believes An Inconvenient Truth should not be taken seriously as a policy leader. And Jack misses the point that in order for economic growth to occur, energy usage needs to increase in the long-term. We cannot conserve our way to long-term prosperity but Jack seems to believe it can be done. As a good leftist, he also prefers to use the tax code and regulations to be carrots and sticks with those items he advocates, rather than let the market evolve to public demand. (Much of what both Carney and Markell are looking for is already law here in Maryland, so I’ve critiqued many aspects of their plans previously.)

Protack: In his energy questions, Mike is the shadow of the two men above, with many of the same thoughts going into those things he asks. He also spells out his energy policy as part of a June blog post. On the other hand, his last blog post on August 4th showed him signing a pledge in favor of oil drilling, so bonus points there! Needless to say, Delaware doesn’t have a lot of oil so he’s pretty safe signing that.

So it appears that Delaware taxpayers and energy consumers may as well be ready to pay more to use less, unless Bill Lee has the guts to keep his veto pen handy as I’m sure the Delaware General Assembly is ready to introduce all of this legislatively regardless of who wins.

Government Reform:

John Carney chose not to address the issue, so I’ll begin with Bill Lee.

Lee:

Our state government is broken, and the guilty are those entrenched, status-quo Dover politicians who focus only on the next election and not on the long-term. As a result, our budget has exploded beyond anyone’s definition of acceptable, yet we still can not afford to build schools or roads. It is shameful and the people of Delaware deserve better. My first act as your next Governor will be an Executive Order to put all state spending online effective upon the launch of the state’s new accounting software in 2009. People deserve to see where their tax dollars are being spent. Next, we will order outside performance audits of our state government, starting with the Departments of Transportation, Education, Natural Resources and Health & Human Services. It’s time to rid ourselves of the bloat and waste. My administration will bring the change that others only talk about.

That’s a good beginning, but this is something that will have to be chased down on an ongoing basis and those entrenched politicians aren’t going to go away quietly. Prepare to use a veto pen and for a lot of heat from the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself.)

Markell: While Jack has been state Treasurer for two years, his philosophy is to spend smarter but not necessarily less. Certainly across-the-board budget cuts in difficult financial times aren’t the perfect answer but no department or agency ever believes they are wasting taxpayer money. In truth, the auditing Jack desires is similar to what Bill Lee advocates, but remember Jack has been in a position to at least suggest these items for two years – yet the General Assembly isn’t listening to him nor is the Minner Administration he’s a part of. More importantly, the people aren’t engaged in calling for these audits and if you accept the argument that the majority of people in Delaware elected Democrats to represent them, obviously they’re pleased with the way things are despite the fact Delaware lurches from budget crisis to budget crisis on an annual basis. Or they’re not being shown leadership.

Protack: Under “Government Reform” is where Protack shines most. He adds ideas to the debate which no one else is suggesting, extending reform to not just financial issues but to voter referendum, term limits, reapportionment, and hiring an Inspector General as other states have.

By far Protack is the winner in this segment, with Bill Lee coming in a distant second. This goes hand-in-hand with party affiliation because Republicans tend to be more fiscally conservative. Unfortunately, more and more Delaware voters join the rest of their national cohorts in voting themselves goodies from the Treasury and thinking someone else will pay for it. The lesson we need to learn is that all of us pay for those so-called “freebies” from government.

Public Safety:

Carney: With the exception of placing cameras in public areas to monitor crime (the Big Brother aspect offends my libertarian side) John has a reasonable approach to the subject. It reminds me a little bit of Rudy Giuliani’s approach in New York City by focusing on nuisance crimes like prostitution, loitering, and vandalism while also pushing for more community-oriented policing.

Lee: This is actually his longest issue address:

As with other areas of government, Public Safety in Delaware is in crisis. From daily shootings in Wilmington and rising crime rates statewide; to a correction system where officers continue to work without a contract in understaffed and overworked conditions; to prison health care failing to meet federal, court-imposed mandates; to state reduction in funds provided to the counties for paramedics; to a failing highway system which impedes first responders, mismanagement and indifference are undermining the safety of our citizens. Our courts and volunteer firefighters continue to excel, but the rest of our public safety system is in a state of turmoil created by a lack of leadership and commitment.

In Wilmington, we must find a way to dramatically increase the number of police to retake areas of the city largely abandoned, especially at night. Whether by designating independent revenue sources dedicated to the city or by multi-jurisdictional intervention, we must make out largest city safe for all its citizens.

Crime, generally, is on the rise, and police and other first responders must be strengthened and increased in number. This means renewed recruitment, training and retention efforts.

Corrections still remains a critical problem and no progress in staffing, pay or work conditions have occurred since this was a major issue four years ago. The Federal Courts are monitoring inmate health care, but our experiences with the Delaware Psychiatric Center are proof that the State should get out of the institutional health care business. This administration can’t even seem to oversee independent health care providers. Again, there is a lack of leadership, competence and commitment.

I continue to believe, as does at least one of the Democratic contenders, that performance audits will allow us to make state government more efficient and produce substantive revenues to attack the problems caused by a lack of leadership. We must establish priorities for applying part of those savings to public safety needs.

Of course no one (except criminals) is for more crime, unfortunately Bill states the obvious without getting too specific on what he’d do about it. Where would the money for new police come from? It’s an issue he’s going to have to address further assuming he survives the September 9th primary.

Markell: Jack has a fairly comprehensive approach as well, but the biggest problem I have with it is where he would like to enact a program similar to that tried in the 1990’s as a federal program under the Clinton Administration. That program provided federal grants to communities to hire officers with the goal of 100,000 new officers on the streets. Of course, when the federal money was cut those communities were stuck with paying for the officers and many could not. Similarly, Markell’s four-year program would expire just when a new term began, leaving him or his successor the choice of whether to continue a program which costs the state a lot of money or look like bad guys by pulling cops off the streets. It’s another program designed to be perpetual.

Protack: Mike didn’t address the public safety issue on his site but did bring it up in a video for his blog which came out in favor of cameras in public places.

On the issue of crime, all four don’t like it and are looking to spend more money fighting it. The two Democrats do cite other factors which lead to crime that need to be addressed but those generally require money to go into effect as well, and thus far haven’t been all that successful since crime rates are on the increase. At its root, most crime stems from a desire to acquire, whether it’s stealing property one covets or gaining the final revenge on a victim by taking their life from them. The state can only do so much to address this because it’s supposed to be parents or the guardians of our children who teach right from wrong. I could go a lot further into this, but to turn a quip on its head the Ten Commandments seem to have become the Ten Suggestions.

So who is deserving of your vote? Both Bill Lee and Mike Protack have points in their favor and both apparently will be on the Delaware ballot in November. I’d press Bill to expand his issue responses a little more since both Democrats have comprehensively outlined their methods of solving Delaware’s problems they see. Of the four candidates, Lee is likely the more conservative – not in the vein of a Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal but maybe closer to a Bob Ehrlich.

On the Democrat side, it seems to me that you face a choice between more of the same in the establishment candidate John Carney or at least some change in Jack Markell. Markell has some moderate qualities about him but the health care issue should scare the living daylights out of potential November voters. States which have gone that route run into serious financial issues with the approach sooner or later and with Delaware already lurching from crisis to crisis another budget-buster is hardly appropriate. It remains to be seen what happens with this heavyweight fight between two Democrat contenders and if it will sap the strength of the winner enough to provide a GOP upset in November.

So, after nearly 4500 words on this race alone and close to 10,000 for the weekend I believe I have contributed a lot of fodder to the discussion on the elections in Delaware – ones I have no say in aside from these posts. I encourage your feedback because mine is surely not the last or most authoritative word, it’s just some friendly advice from a man who lives close enough to Delaware to be affected and has already seen the canary in the coal mine bite the dust from living on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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