Jack Markell's Politics, Personality, and His Future In (or Out of) Office
Heavy hitter: Jack Markell racked up early victories as governor, but he’s taken some tough shots of late. Could the likable leader have his sights set on an even bigger prize?
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Not surprisingly, the Caesar Rodney Institute, a conservative think tank, disagrees. Dr. John Stapleford, a member of the Institute’s board and a principal of DECON First, wrote a broad attack on the administration in a March 6 “Delaware Voice” column in The News Journal. Titled “Delaware is on its way to a lackluster future,” the piece claimed higher state and local taxes and energy costs have deterred economic growth, and noted that a recent survey ranks Delaware “27th in job creation from startups and 50th in job creation by existing firms.”
Stapleford also found fault with education: “Two-thirds of Delaware’s public school eighth-graders are not proficient in reading or math. Delaware ranks in the bottom half of all states and these test scores are essentially unchanged since 2007.”
A few days later, in another “Delaware Voice,” Levin responded, recounting the administration’s success in attracting new businesses, noting educational awards and achievements, and concluding, “Far from lackluster, Delaware’s future is bright.” Tellingly, however, he did not dispute any of Stapleford’s statistics.
From the left, the labor-friendly John Kowalko frequently finds fault with Markell’s economic and education policies. He’s particularly concerned that the administration’s support of charter schools tends to drain funds and attention from public schools. In an email, Kowalko writes: “The existing Charter School law has major flaws that include, but are not limited to, creating a publicly funded private school system that can be geographically exclusive and not adequately reflect the diversity of those neighboring traditional school populations. I personally feel the governor’s approach to education in general is too heavily influenced by federal guidelines, demands and competitions (such as Race to the Top) to adequately reform and ultimately improve public education.”
Perhaps the most dissatisfied members of the left are environmentalists, who believe the governor is too cozy with industry. Dave Carter, conservation chairman of the Audubon Society, calls Markell “the worst environmental governor in a generation.”
“I campaigned for him, and there was a lot of rhetoric during the campaign, but he didn’t live up to it with actions,” Carter says. As an example, he cites the Delaware City Refinery. Carter says that the value of the fish killed at the refinery is greater than the value of commercial fishing in Delaware last year.
Says Nancy Willing: “A lot of enviros have peeled off him, one by one.”
Aside from the environment, however, Markell has positioned himself as a social liberal. He recently introduced five gun-control proposals, and championed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage that was headed to the House floor for a vote in mid-April.
While some on the left perceive the governor to be drifting right, Republican state Sen. Greg Lavelle takes the opposite view, especially when it comes to economic issues like the Affordable Care Act. “With the governor’s clear interest in national politics,” says Lavelle, “one of my concerns over the next four years is that he will continue to move further left in order to be successful in that realm. And his policies will reflect that. I don’t begrudge him the interest; I just wonder about the effect on Delaware.”