Jack Markell: The Year in Review
It could be argued that no Delaware governor had ever entered office under more challenging circumstances. How has he fared? Plus, the real story of how little Delaware landed Fisker.
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Jack Markell sheds his suit coat, grabs the mike, then steps down from the auditorium stage, putting him at eye level with his audience. They are some 200 Delawareans who have come to Brandywine Springs Elementary School near Wilmington to hear their governor speak about the state’s economy. Community meetings such as this have produced ugly scenes across the nation in what has become a confrontational political climate. But there will be none of that on this warm September evening, because Jack Markell is in his element.
Markell is good on his feet. He is articulate, sincere and, despite a typically sober mien, humorously self-deprecating. He paces in front of the auditorium, talks about his administration’s successes, explains his plans and takes questions, including two or three that are politely critical of his decisions. The former Nextel vice president deflects them with the skill of a corporate leader turned deft politician.
This is Markell’s second round of public meetings since his election in November 2008. The first and more intense series occurred in the early days of his administration, when he went up and down the state nearly 30 times with a Power Point presentation, outlining his budget and revenue proposals. The first-term governor faced a record deficit, the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression, and the highest unemployment rate in decades. His proposals included higher taxes and an 8 percent pay cut for state workers, two flash points that earned him the enmity of many, prompted at least one death threat, and evoked signs such as “Impeach Markell” and “Paybacks are Hell.”
He subsequently endured a stressful budget battle and, after an expensive legal fight, was rebuffed by the courts in his efforts to supplement state coffers by making Delaware a sports gambling mecca. He also inherited a school system that ranks eighth in the country for spending per student but only 27th in overall performance, and a prison system in danger of being taken over by the U.S. Justice Department because of sub-par healthcare for inmates.
Despite all this, the 49-year-old Newark native says, “I love this job. It is a great job.” The words are spoken with a broad, convincing smile.
Markell announced his long-rumored gubernatorial candidacy in June 2007, while serving a third term as state treasurer. The next year, after a hard-fought primary against the party-backed candidate, then-Lieutenant Governor John Carney, he won the Democratic nomination. In the general election, a nationwide Democratic flood tide helped sweep Markell into office. Markell buried Republican Bill Lee, a retired judge, with 67.5 percent of the nearly 400,000 votes cast. That was the largest percentage of any winning candidate, including Vice President Joe Biden, who got 64.7 percent of the record turnout.
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