Markell sees merit in winter meeting of governors

DOVER — Gov. Jack Markell said Tuesday he always returns from the National Governors Association meetings with new ideas and initiatives.

The group’s winter gathering is held in Washington every February. It gives the executives of every state a chance to meet with one another and also federal officials, including the president. Governors exchange success stories and focus on issues impacting their respective states.

This year, one of the main areas of emphasis was drug addiction.

Meeting Friday through Monday, more than 40 governors discussed the spate of opioid addiction. It’s an epidemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says killed more than 29,000 in the United States in 2014.

The governors called on the federal government to provide emergency funding, touted drug education efforts and promoted expansion of treatment plans.

“To end this national epidemic that claims the lives of so many of our family members and fellow citizens, governors, physicians, state

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Gov. Jack Markell

legislatures and other stakeholders must join together to take action,” they said in a statement.

Gov. Markell, a Democrat now in his final year in office, sought advice on establishing career training programs and fielded questions from other governors on criminal justice reform and college readiness.

“A very, as it always is, robust conversation, and I always walk away with some good information,” he said.

Delaware has put particular emphasis on preparing students for the workforce in recent years. Gov. Markell said one of the most enlightening conversations he had was with a governor whose state is beginning career planning for sixth graders.

Broadband access and the Zika virus were also discussed. Governors discussed ways to spend wisely in regard to broadband and to promote education of the virus.

Several people, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Gov. Markell said, approached him about the state’s work in criminal justice reform.

“Everything from having more people in community supervision rather than pretrial detainees as well as some of the work we’ve done about helping people with drivers’ licenses get their licenses back after getting out of prison,” he said.

Others were also impressed with Delaware’s efforts to promote college readiness and provide resources to children starting early in life, he said.

Delaware allows high school juniors to take the SAT in school for free, a practice Gov. Markell said Rhode Island is interesting in adopting.

The governors also spent several hours at the White House meeting with President Obama, touching on issues like opiates.

While the gathering included both Republican and Democratic governors, political differences never caused disagreements, Gov. Markell said.

“When we get behind closed doors you can barely tell who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican,” he said.

For the first time, President Obama opened up a meeting between himself and the governors to the press. He did so, Gov. Markell said, to show citizens that leaders can put their differences aside and work on common goals.

“You live and you learn and you put the citizens first, as opposed to sort of your political interest,” the governor said.

The coalition of executives did take the time together to talk national politics, with some weighing in on the presidential primaries.

Gov. Markell said he sought the opinions of several Republican officials on the state of the GOP race, which has upended conventional wisdom and predictions as billionaire businessman Donald Trump surged to the forefront.

The governors are scheduled to meet again in the summer.

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