Gubernatorial candidate Carney says he will promote ‘innovative’ economy

DOVER — Gubernatorial candidate John Carney, Delaware’s sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, will take a deep look at state spending, simplify the “tax and regulatory environment,” hand more educational control to teachers and work to cultivate an “innovative” culture to enable the state to succeed in a changing economy, he said Monday.

Rep. Carney, a Democrat who has served in Congress the past six years after losing in a 2008 bid for the governor’s office, spoke extensively for the first time about his priorities and vision if he is elected governor. He announced back in September he would be seeking the state’s top office, which will be vacated by Gov. Jack Markell due to term limits, but largely shied away from discussing his plans over the ensuing 10 months.

U.S. Rep. John Carney files his candidacy to run in the Democratic primary for governor on Monday in Dover. (Submitted)

U.S. Rep. John Carney files his candidacy to run in the Democratic primary for governor on Monday in Dover. (Submitted)

Monday, shortly after officially filing for governor, he answered questions over the phone while riding back to Washington for congressional business.

Rep. Carney acknowledged Delaware faces “significant challenges” and pointed to his own experience in the House and as lieutenant governor, saying he hopes voters will decide he “brings the vision and the experience necessary to lead.”

He is considered the heavy favorite due to his name recognition in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 130,000. He was also favored in 2008, when, coming off eight years as lieutenant governor, he lost to then-treasurer Jack Markell in the primary.
This year, he will take on newcomer Kevin Tinsley in the primary.

Rep. Carney reported having $449,000 available at the end of 2015. His chief opponent, state Sen. Colin Bonini, a Republican who represents the Dover area, had about $30,000.

The issues

The biggest issue, he said, is the economy, a declaration similar to comments made by Sen. Bonini.

Rep. Carney’s website includes seven major areas of focus at this point: the economy, education, the state’s budget, the environment, health care, criminal justice and agriculture.
Although the state’s unemployment rate is lower than it was this time eight years, the first time

Rep. Carney campaigned for governor, Delaware has seen a decline in the manufacturing field, once a reliable option for thousands of job-seekers.

Developing “an economy that produces middle-income jobs” will be the main point of focus for his administration, Rep. Carney said.

Key to that are good schools, he believes.

By giving teachers more control, Delaware can eliminate “distractions that get in the way of educators in the classroom” and in turn improve the state’s education system, he said.

He is in favor of expanding efforts by Gov. Markell to promote startup companies and continue the work done by the state’s higher-education institutions to train future members of the workforce and incubate business ideas.

He is also supportive of a higher minimum wage, having co-sponsored legislation in the House that would have increased the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years and tied it to the inflation.

Any increase, he said Monday, would have to be phased in so as to ensure it “does not retard job growth.”

Gov. Markell did not take a public stance on legislation that would have raised Delaware’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.25 earlier this year.

With the state’s revenue stream struggling, leading to some cuts from Gov. Markell’s proposed budget this year, Rep. Carney said he will make an effort to curb the state’s budget growth. Much of the jump in spending is driven by health-care costs.

“It’s a problem not just for state government but for every business large and small in our state,” he said of rising health-care expenses.

Gov. Markell this year proposed locking future state employees into one health-care plan, known as a Health Savings Account, in an effort to limit state spending on health care, but lawmakers rejected the idea.

Rep. Carney said he would consider the proposal, as well as others aimed at slowing growth in health care, including Medicaid.

“If you can lower the cost curve there just a little bit, it will go a long way just because of the big numbers,” he said.

He is also in favor of what he termed a “fiscal reset” — examining all state spending in-depth, rather than starting with the prior year’s budget and making comparatively small adjustments based on cost-drivers.

Fiscal experience

Rep. Carney, the secretary of finance under Gov. Tom Carper in the 1990s, has placed much of his focus on fiscal issues, although he has also singled out several unrelated initiatives, such as providing more substance-abuse treatment, combating climate change and preserving farmland.

On one of the state’s most divisive issues, he is undecided.

Lawmakers have attempted unsuccessfully to repeal the death penalty the past two sessions, and Rep. Carney, who served on the board of pardons as lieutenant governor, said he is no longer the firm supporter he once was but has not made up his mind over repeal.

Citing statistics showing the death penalty is applied more frequently on minorities and the mentally ill, Rep. Carney said he “would be willing to look at different ways to approach it to make sure that it is equally applied.”

Although some opponents have said Rep. Carney has not spent substantial amounts of time campaigning, the candidate himself disputes that, saying he has participated in local events like parades and met with farmers, educators and business leaders in an effort to hear what concerns and suggestions Delawareans have.

He was quick to note he has not seen Sen. Bonini at social gatherings.

“I’ve spent my time in Congress working hard with Republicans who are in the majority since I’ve been here to get things done and I don’t see much of that activity on his part in the General Assembly,” he said.

Although he described Sen. Bonini as a friend, the two have divergent views, ranging from the minimum wage to gun control.

Rep. Carney, who said he has been more focused on congressional-related issues over the past months, intends to begin shifting his attention to the campaign and local hurdles. He did hire a campaign team several months ago and has been raising money since September.

The House is on break after this week, giving him an opportunity to spend time in Delaware working on his gubernatorial bid.

Although he cited his background as lieutenant governor and congressman several times, Rep. Carney largely deferred when asked how confident he is.

“In all elections the people decide at the end of the day,” he said.

The primary is Sept. 13, and the general election is Nov. 8.

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