What will a Carney administration look like? New governor will face tough policy fights

DOVER — On Jan. 17, John Carney will be sworn in as the 74th governor of Delaware.

He will inherit a budget deficit of more than $200 million, a crime problem and diminished opportunities for blue-collar workers.

Gov.-elect Carney, who has been a congressman and lieutenant governor, comes into the state’s top office with more experience in the legislative process than term-limited Gov. Jack Markell. Gov. Markell was elected to the state’s top post after 10 years as state treasurer.

“Certainly he’ll have a different approach,” Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said of the governor-elect. “He’s more intimately aware of the process and the legislation, and John is a blue-collar guy, rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.”

Both Gov.-elect Carney and Gov. Markell are Democrats, but Sen. McDowell, who has co-chaired the Joint Finance Committee for the past six years, expects the next chief executive to have more success passing his initiatives in the General Assembly. But, he noted those proposals will build on “the good work Jack Markell’s already done.”

John Carney makes remarks at a statewide Democratic Party election gathering at the Wilmington Doubletree Hotel. (Special to the Delaware State News.Doug Curran)

John Carney makes remarks at a statewide Democratic Party election gathering at the Wilmington Doubletree Hotel. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

While Gov. Markell led efforts to tackle a shortfall in excess of $800 million when he took office in January 2009 and was a prime supporter of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage and place more restrictions on guns, among others. However, his efforts to reform state employee health care and impose a clean-water fee were unsuccessful.

Gov.-elect Carney, who served as secretary of finance from 1997 to 2000 and lieutenant governor from 2001 to 2009, might have more luck there.

In those roles he dealt with lawmakers on a daily basis and his experience heading the Finance Department gives him an intimate knowledge of the state budget — something he noted.
Knowing when to hold firm against the legislature and when to give in is the governor’s toughest test, Gov.-elect Carney said.

“You want to identify the things that are going to really move the needle and that won’t distract you from what’s most important,” he said.

He cited the economy and education as the key areas of focus.

Gov. Markell said he thinks the state is in “very good hands” with the man he defeated in a hard-fought gubernatorial primary eight years ago.

“I think he’s been very focused on the right things, which is continuing to improve the economy, continuing to make sure the state is on a solid financial footing and in many ways similar to me in terms of wanting all Delawareans to go far as their potential will take them,” he said.

“He’ll have his own ideas, to be sure, which is what governors are supposed to do and I look forward to seeing all that he does.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who made Gov.-elect Carney his deputy chief of staff and then finance secretary in the 1990s, spoke enthusiastically about him Thursday.

As a member of Congress, Gov.-elect Carney strove to work with Republicans, an element of bipartisanship that has long been present in Delaware politics.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, hopes to see “visionary thinking” and collaboration from the executive branch. His counterpart in the House, Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, expects good communication between Gov.-elect Carney and lawmakers.

The new governor will have to erase the budget shortfall, although the transition is expected to be eased by Gov. Markell and his budget team.

Gov.-elect Carney noted he will not agree with lawmakers of his own party at times.

“I tend to be more fiscally conservative,” he said.

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A key part of an administration’s success or failure is the cabinet. Selecting the right people can enable the executive branch to connect with businesses, lawmakers and the public.
The wrong choice can invite heavy criticism and undermine the governor.

Education Secretary Mark Murphy, for instance, was appointed to the post in 2012. By 2015, he had received a vote of no confidence from the Delaware State Education Association and was facing strong opposition from many lawmakers.

He ended up stepping down.

While Gov.-elect Carney has not yet named anyone to his cabinet, he has given hints. On Thursday he indicated he would likely name as his budget director or finance secretary (or both) someone who has worked in state government, saying “you have to know how that budget works, you have to know where things are buried.”

Gov. Markell’s budget director for most of his tenure was Ann Visalli, who had served as his deputy in the Treasurer’s Office for several years.

Gov.-elect Carney could keep several current secretaries, as Gov. Markell did, although most of the agencies are likely to have a new person in charge.

The Delaware Health and Social Services is guaranteed to be open, with Rita Landgraf moving on to the University of Delaware.

The governor-elect said he plans to recruit “really smart, creative people” and give them full control over their departments. He aims to have the finance team in position as soon as possible.

Rep. Short is among those interested to see the cabinet picks.

“I think that has a true indication of what direction he might take, so yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing who it’s going to be,” he said.

At a debate last month, before the election, Gov.-elect Carney said he would name a Republican to his cabinet, something Gov. Markell did by tapping Alan Levin to lead the Delaware Economic Development Office in 2009.

Not everyone who helps shape the administration does so in the public eye. Gov.-elect Carney could pull many other members of his current congressional staff over to his new office.

In fact, he has already selected several key pieces, naming Doug Gramiak and Sheila Grant his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively. Mr. Gramiak had previously worked for Gov.-elect Carney when he was lieutenant governor and representative, and Ms. Grant is his current congressional chief of staff.

A new Congress begins Jan. 3, meaning Gov.-elect Carney will be pulling double duty until then. Two weeks later, he will take the oath of office and begin his four-year term.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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