Carney, Bonini reflect on Delaware role models

Democrat John Carney, left, and Republican Colin Bonini shake hands before a debate in Newark earlier this month. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

Democrat John Carney, left, and Republican Colin Bonini shake hands before a debate in Newark earlier this month. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

DOVER — If John Carney wins election, he’ll be the fourth consecutive Democrat to serve as governor.

He has served on one’s cabinet and has worked closely with the two most recent governors over the past 24 years.

If Colin Bonini wins, he will be the first Republican since Mike Castle to hold the office.

He has been in the legislature for 22 years.

Out of curiosity, this editor asked each of them this past week which Delaware governor they would most be like.

“Wow … that’s an answer that could get me in serious trouble,” said Congressman Carney, who has served in U.S. House since 2011.

He was a Deputy Chief of Staff and Secretary of Finance for former Gov. Tom Carper prior to becoming lieutenant governor in the years of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s tenure. Current Gov. Jack Markell edged Rep. Carney in 2008 in a Democratic Party gubernatorial primary.

Sen. Bonini’s quick response was Pete du Pont, the Republican who served from 1977 to 1985.

“Pete du Pont is one of my idols,” said Sen. Bonini. “He was a principled conservative. He is the model of what a strong governor should be.”


Rep. Carney, not wanting to slight the three recent Democratic Party governors, thought for a second.

“Let me mention a governor that I had a tremendous amount of respect for,” he said. “I wasn’t around when he served but I got to know him. He just seemed like the kind of governor who would both relate very well directly to people.

“And that’s Bert Carvel.”

From the Editor logo copy copyDemocrat Elbert N. Carvel was a two-time Delaware governor, winning office in 1948, losing a re-election bid to Republican J. Caleb Boggs in 1952, and winning the governor’s office again in 1960 against Republican John Rollins. Before becoming governor the first time, Carvel was elected lieutenant governor in 1944.

When Rep. Carney was lieutenant governor, he had a chance to meet Gov. Carvel at his Laurel home.

“Bert took us back to a little library on the back of his home,” said Rep. Carney. “You could feel the history there.”

The memorable story from his meeting was Gov. Carvel reflecting on a task he was given in 1946 by then-Republican Gov. Walter Bacon to help get votes to construct the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The Dems agreed, asking that it be named in honor of President Roosevelt and that some of their bills actually make it to the floor in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Elbert Carvel

Elbert Carvel

In 2002, Gov. Carvel, then in his 90s, told that story again at a gathering to celebrate the bridge’s 50th anniversary.

“My affection for Bert is partly due to the fact that I had a chance to meet someone who was such an integral part of history,” said Rep. Carney. “And, to me, it’s just incredible that a politician that could serve as he did from 1945 to 1948, win governor, sit out two terms and get re-elected again. It just seemed like this guy had some connection with ordinary folk, which is what I try to do. And, he was always very aspirational about what he wanted to do.”


Any Delawarean who has read a newspaper in the last two decades should know by now that Sen. Bonini is a fiscal conservative and the oft-repeated line is that Delaware has a spending problem. He admires how Gov. du Pont took on the Democrats who controlled the Delaware General Assembly when he took office in 1977.

Gov. du Pont inherited a state in financial crisis and a stressed population whose personal income tax rate had risen to 19.8 percent under the previous administration. In one of his first major addresses, he said the state was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Pete du Pont

Pete du Pont

Gov. du Pont vetoed the General Assembly’s budget bill and it was later overridden, but historically Delawareans have looked at that period as a time of reform and balanced budgets.

“We were the first state in the whole union ready to declare bankruptcy,” said Sen. Bonini. “We really were. I would argue that he literally saved the state.”

Gov. du Pont’s legacy also includes the Delaware with the Financial Center Development Act in 1981 that gave rise to the tens of thousands of banking jobs in the state.

Sen. Bonini also points to Gov. du Pont’s role in reining in spending. During that era, there were more conservative Democrats involved in compromises.

Long a lonesome conservative voice in the Senate, Sen. Bonini said that has changed in recent years. In fact, the Republicans are two seats away from winning back the Senate majority for the first time in 44 years.

“I think our building has become more partisan and frankly it’s a one-party building, which is another reason I think it’s important to have a strong governor who is willing to take that on,” said Sen. Bonini. “I think we go along to get along. Some conflict in the General Assembly is not a bad thing if it’s done respectfully.”


One of the fun questions posed to Rep. Carney this week related to if he wins election and Sen. Bonini remains in his current position.

Sen. Bonini has voted against every state operating budget bill since he took office 22 years ago.

This editor asked, “What will it take to get a ‘yes’ vote from Sen. Bonini?”

There was a brief laughter from Rep. Carney.

“You know, I think you’d have to ask him that question,” said Rep. Carney. “What I’m more concerned about is how do you get the public to vote for it in the sense that this is a fiscal plan we can live with. My own view is that at the end of the day, you have to balance the budget. If you vote no, you’re not helping to balance the budget. The budget is all about making hard decisions. I’m not sure what it is that he would change. I’ve sat there through eight of those years and listened to him say why he wasn’t going to vote for it. He believes we have a spending problem. So give us a list of cuts that you would like to make.”

Rep. Carney said a “no” vote is one of the easiest to defend.

Sen. Bonini said he does not want to be a part of a “go-along-to-get-along” process. And, because Delaware’s legislators work so closely to one another, he said it’s more difficult to go against the grain.

Said Sen. Bonini, “I realize this polls well so everybody says, ‘I want to bring people together.’ It’s like Mom and apple pie — people like to hear it. When my car is broken down on the side of the road, or Delaware is broken down on the side of the road, I don’t want a committee of nice people, I want a mechanic to fix my car.”


One of the quotes of the week, perhaps, was Sen. Bonini’s reference to medicine.

He has been battling the flu and other maladies recently. His comparison of himself to Rep. Carney, “He’s aspirin and I’m a strong antibiotic.”


We hope readers have studied the pages of the Delaware State News through this campaign to compare and contrast the candidates.

In addition to the gubernatorial race today, we will feature the races for lieutenant governor Monday, insurance commissioner Tuesday and Congress on Wednesday. Legislative races were featured over the past week. All of our election-related material can be reviewed in the Vote 2016 section at

Unlike most daily newspapers, the Delaware State News does not make endorsements. Instead, we believe in giving readers the information they need to make their own informed and intelligent decisions.


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