Blunt Rochester emphasizes job creation in run for U.S. House

DOVER — Forty-seven states have sent a woman to Congress. Twenty-seven have elected an African-American.

Only Delaware and Vermont fall outside of both categories, but for the First State, that could change very soon.

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Lisa Blunt Rochester is making a bid to fill Delaware’s open seat in the U.S. House. While she’s just one of six Democrats competing in the Sept. 13 primary, she’s proven herself a strong contender for the office, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and earning support.

Her campaign is about more than skin color and gender, but Ms. Blunt Rochester is embracing her background. Her campaign features many issues that primarily relate to women, such as equal pay and more accessible child care, and she’s backed by EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women and has helped raise her profile.

A cabinet secretary from 1998 to 2004 under two governors, Ms. Blunt Rochester said she decided to run because she feels Delaware and the nation are at a “turning point.”

“I just started looking around me at some of the things I was seeing in our communities and listening to some of the rhetoric and vision that I hear across the country and realized there are a lot of people who are struggling rebounding even from 2009, the collapse that we did, and instead of sitting in my car worrying about it, I decided I could do something and I decided to throw my hat in the ring,” she said.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Lisa Blunt Rochester

For Ms. Blunt Rochester, the former secretary of labor, almost everything comes back to jobs — or lack thereof.

“I think some of the crime that we see is because people are not really living their purpose and don’t have economic opportunities,” she said.

With traditionally strong industries like manufacturing and chemicals declining in the state, Ms. Blunt Rochester believes Delaware will have to take steps to allow other fields, such as health care, education and renewable energy, to excel.

Investing in infrastructure would benefit everyone in Delaware, she said, noting it entices companies to settle in Delaware and creates jobs in the construction field.

She is in favor of raising the minimum wage, although she cautioned that policymakers would need to consider how to implement an increase across the entire country.

In campaigning, Ms. Blunt Rochester has emphasized several issues related to treatment of women in the workplace, such as equal pay and discrimination.

She supports passing the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prevent employers from barring their employees from discussing pay and allow women to sue over wage discrimination.

As labor secretary, she said, she heard firsthand from people who were discriminated against but did not speak out for fear of being fired.

She pledged to oppose privatization of Medicaid and Social Security and said she is in favor of raising the payroll cap, which would allow earnings above $118,500 to be taxed for Social Security purposes.

“It’s a safety net that allowed so many people to stay out of poverty, but we have to strengthen it for those that we made that contract with,” Ms. Blunt Rochester said.

Though she stresses the importance of putting people to work, she believes Delaware also needs to strengthen its education system. The education provided to students goes a long way toward determining their future success, she said.

Although she has never run for public office before, she has worked for several elected officials.

Ms. Blunt Rochester started as an intern to Rep. Tom Carper, D-Del., then advanced through his office and became deputy secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services in 1993 after he was elected governor.

In 1998, she was named secretary of labor.

That experience heading the agency “shaped” her congressional run, she said, explaining how the department was able to impact people’s lives. In assisting Delawareans in becoming employed, the state was increasing the quality of their lives and decreasing the number of people on welfare.

Because of that, she has emphasized job creation in her campaign.

Named state personnel director in 2001 after Ruth Ann Minner was elected governor, Ms. Blunt Rochester (then Blunt Bradley) conducted an examination of the Delaware State Police over allegations of internal discrimination.

After serving as CEO of the nonprofit Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, she moved to China.

Now, back in Delaware for several years, she is campaigning full-time.

As a congresswoman, she believes she could connect with people of all backgrounds, political parties and ideologies: “I represent a bridge.”

The campaign has connected with enough people to pull in $395,000, in addition to a loan of $179,000 out of Ms. Blunt Rochester’s own pocket. Financial disclosure reports indicate she has between $5.5 million and $12.3 million in assets, most of which stems from stocks and investment funds.

The daughter of a longtime Wilmington City Council member, she has been endorsed by several state legislators.

“I’m proud to endorse Lisa Blunt Rochester for United States Congress,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said in a statement. “Lisa won’t simply be the first woman or person of color to represent the First State in Congress, she will be a fierce advocate for the things that matter most — good jobs, strong families, safe communities and a diverse, healthy Delaware that reflects the best in all of us. She will bring a new, fresh perspective on these issues. We need Lisa in Congress.”

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

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