An Election for the Ages

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Retired Delaware politicians weigh in on the issues and what we could see in the coming months

Voter turnout in 2018 was the highest for midterm elections in 50 years. Do you think that will hold for this year’s elections and why?

Yes, I expect turnout to be very high. My sense is that citizens are highly engaged in this election because Donald Trump has made it clear that leadership matters—and unfortunately, he’s made it clear that bad leadership can have a real impact on all of us. Joe Biden is beloved in Delaware so I expect people will enthusiastically register their support for him.

— Jack Markell

Percentage of eligible voters who voted in 2018 midterm election nationwide was 50%. Only five states had 60%. Yes, I believe that the turnout will be as large as ‘18. I believe the events of 2020 will inspire more people to exercise their right to vote. It is hard to understand why 50 percent of the population does not value their ability and right to vote.

— Joseph Miro

Even in unprecedented times, projections are suggesting that voter turnout in 2020 could reach the highest levels in decades—if not the highest in the past century. The divisiveness and ineptitude of our current administration threatens basic civil liberties and human rights. It is these same civil liberties that keep us safe, especially in times of crisis. With so much at stake, and the surge of new voters potentially producing the most diverse electorate in American history, I truly believe the 2020 election turnout will be of historic proportions.

— Margaret Rose Henry

The pandemic has made it very difficult to answer that question. At the beginning of the year, I thought that the turnout might handily eclipse that of the midterms. Now, with what has been happening in so many aspects of the campaigns, any guess may be feasible. Mine is that it will be slightly higher than 2018, but the true numbers will not be verified for a couple of weeks (if then).

— Joseph G. DiPinto

Based on the 2018 general elections and the 2020 Presidential primaries (in spite of the Coronavirus), I think the 2020 upcoming general elections voter turnout will exceed 55% nationally. My rationale is based on the constant barrage of media information provided daily on various media platforms. I think the American people are now totally aware that a mistake was made when the Electoral College vote count—and not the popular vote count—selected a President that lacked the capabilities necessary to preside over our great country.

— Theodore Blunt

Yes, if not larger. With the Coronavirus and people working from home, more are keeping up with current events. For weeks all of us watched Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx explain to us about the virus and how we can do our part to slow the spread down, as well as President Trump sometimes contradicting what they said. With this came the pundits take, either good or bad, depending upon your own beliefs. People who never wanted to discuss politics now are and want to be involved and are very adamant about voting in November. 

— Helene Keeley

No, I think that there’s going to be a lot of chaos. And there’s going to be reluctance—on some people’s part—to vote. There are people who voted absentee [in the primaries]. But a lot of people have never done this before. So, there are a lot of people that will not select an absentee ballot to vote.

[With the] virus and all this other kind of stuff, people don’t know what to expect when they go to the polls. It may mean they have to be in line for a long time because of keeping the separation and all of that. They also may not go because they just don’t want to be around a lot of people.

— James M. Baker

How do you feel the Black Lives Matter movement and the current state of race relations will impact this election?

The Black Lives Matter movement has revolutionized the conversation about racial justice in the country. The new and impassioned protests occurring throughout America, by people of all colors, highlight the consequences of structural racism and offers a united voice on issues that have persisted for far too long.

This new era of America’s racial justice movement owes much to young people, harkening back to the powerful social movements of the past while using the technological tools of today. Black Lives Matter reminds us that freedom for Black Americans ultimately means a better nation for all. Until the most marginalized among us are recognized as part of American society in the same way as everyone else is, we will continue to see the rise of this movement until actual justice is served.

— Margaret Rose Henry

I think in two ways: Some people are angry over what happened in the aftermath of the demonstrations. The sad part is that some people wanted to misuse the demonstrations. [They] went downtown [Wilmington] and did some terrible things. That wasn’t anger; that was thievery—people who wanted to take advantage of this situation. There’s going to be people who feel angry about that or upset about that.

Then, the removal of statues: There’s going to be people angry about that. So that might cause people to vote one way or the other. Although it was done for safety reasons to prevent them from having paint thrown on them or damages made to them. But they have to be put back in place and the whole issue of slavery and statues and all that should be clarified.

I can understand when you deal with Confederacy and the Civil War and all that. But to take down all statues because of the past history is just ludicrous. I think they should be put back in place. But I think people are going to be upset over that.

And then in the African American community, there are people very upset over the situation of the killings of people and will vote to prove the point. Others won’t vote to prove a point. So, I think you’re going to get a mixed bag here.

— James M. Baker

The almost universal support of the initial non-violent protests following George Floyd’s senseless death benefitted the Democrat Party measurably at both the local and national levels. The unfortunate growth of rioting and the surfacing of the BLM agenda and socialist policies will diminish that support as the campaign gains steam. Race will be a factor, and I hope that the quest for equal justice is not sidetracked.

— Joseph G. DiPinto

Black Lives Matter will energize minorities and the younger generation to vote in this election. The electorate will feel the need to make all voices heard.

— Joseph Miro

I believe people are beginning to realize that supporting the slogan isn’t enough. Action has to follow. And I believe that people will support candidates who are committed to action, not just words, when it comes to ensuring that our country live up to its founding principles and finally erase its original sin.

— Jack Markell

What suggestions do you have for rebuilding bi-partisanship?

The murder of bi-partisanship began in Washington when some politicians decided that an adversary’s disagreement meant that they were either immoral or mentally deficient. This resulted in personal treatment and loss of mutual respect that could no longer be papered over by some pork-barrel grant to soothe the opponent’s ire. Language got cruder, put-downs were uglier, and humor and comity were forgotten. I saw this begin to happen at the local level in the early 2000s and was saddened.

Bi-partisanship can be rebuilt only by strong and courageous leaders of all parties who have good manners, a sense of humor and enough self-confidence to commit themselves to restoring class and dignity to the process of governance.

— Joseph G. DiPinto

Harsh differences and polarization are not new themes in American democracy. What is new is the Congress’s diminished capacity to manage these challenges. To me, the idea of bipartisanship simply means finding areas of common ground where we can come together to get important things done. In Delaware, the General Assembly works together on issues of importance known as the “Delaware Way.” Delaware is so small that many of our elected officials know each other and have had similar experiences or have gone to school together.  One way we have been effective in Delaware is to find things that we can accept and live with, even though the issue would not be our priority. This creates good will and enables elected officials in Delaware to get things done that both political parties can accept and support.

— Margaret Rose Henry

I think you’re going to have to have a change in Washington. Right now, one party is frightened of the person within the presidency, and because of the support base that he has. And so, they have responded in a way that has broken any sense of compromise and working together for the betterment of the country. It’s really just “our way or no way.”

I don’t know how you fix all that unless you have new leadership, especially amongst the Republicans who say, “We can’t keep doing this. We’re playing to the far right, and we’re supposed to be Lincoln’s party. But we sure aren’t showing it.”

You would have never gotten any of those Civil Rights bill passed if it had not been for cooperation with Republicans and Democrats. We would have not made racial progress at all without cooperation—even though you had radicalism or whatever else.

When you look at the development of the NAACP, the majority of people who set up the NAACP were White. There were more Whites than there were African Americans.

We have to understand we have got to find a way to work together—not just as a people—but as parties. It’s dangerous for us as a nation to continue the way we’re going.

— James M. Baker

When elected officials focus on the things that citizens actually care about—better schools, more and better jobs, a clean environment, high-quality and affordable health care that’s accessible to everybody, and a better of quality of life—they’ll find they have a lot more in common than the partisan talking points too many rely on (not just during the campaign but often while governing) would suggest.

— Jack Markell

For over 22 years I worked really hard to build bi-partisanship in the House of Representatives and I think I did a fairly good job.

None of us agree 100% all the time on every topic. In order to build bi-partisanship, we need to focus on what we agree on. 98% of all legislation that I was the prime sponsor of had co-prime sponsor for the opposite party and I’m extremely proud of this. I sat down with them personally, explained the bill and its intent, asked them for their option and how I could make it better and many times their suggests did strengthen the legislation.

So, when it came time for the vote, I had people in all four caucuses supporting, gathering vote to make sure the legislation passed. This can be done, it’s hard work, you have to listen and put your ego aside and understand you are not the only one with good ideas.

— Helene Keeley

You need to look at the legislation being proposed on its merit and not based on politics. Elected officials need to remember that they are working for everyone for the benefit of the greater good of the state and the country. Our lawmakers are elected by people who respect them as a person and what they stand for. People who vote for them may be Democrats, Republicans or Independents. Lawmakers need to look at the value and merit of the piece of legislation not who is presenting it. Once elected, politics and party affiliation should not be the driving force.

— Joseph Miro

Your comments on how the pandemic will affect this year’s election?

I think people will show up and vote our current president out of office. He has demonstrated an inability to provide leadership at this critical time in our history. The pandemic should have been a bi-partisan, wake-up call issue with both political parties paying attention to the data and listening to our pandemic medical experts.

The reason why over 139,000 people have died (as of 7/17/2020) is because our current president and his Republican office-holders have made the pandemic a POLITICAL issue versus a POLICY issue. The pandemic will definitely have an impact on this election, just like it has had on everything else in our society.

— Theodore Blunt

Campaigning will be strange, unlike any in recent history. Lots of innovative electronic stuff will be used, to what avail I don’t know. The conventions will probably be sleep-provoking and there may even be a meteor shower of “October surprises.” Counting of votes will be complex and the impact of mail-in ballots is yet to be determined. My thinking is that the swing voters will make very late decisions.

— Joseph G. DiPinto

The pandemic will affect the election in a variety of ways. First, people have strong feelings on how the pandemic has been handled by the government at the state and national levels. This will influence how people vote. Choices will be very emotionally driven in the voting booth.

The pandemic will make campaigning very difficult this year especially for political newcomers. I would think incumbents have more of an upper hand this year than ever before.

Door to door campaigning will be nearly impossible as will standing in front of supermarkets. People will be leery of leaflets and brochures. Paid ads, direct mail and social media will be more of the norm and they can be very expensive. I also think phone-calling may be more important than previously.

As far as actual voting, the pandemic should not be an issue because of added availability of the absentee ballot, which is easy to obtain.

— Joseph Miro

We have already seen that several states with early primaries have had to alter their voting plans. We have seen changes in dates, combination of polling locations, social distancing causing stress and long lines, and the lack of people to work in the polls because primarily older people have traditionally been free to work at the polls. Some states have had to combine their polling locations causing confusion for its citizens.

The pandemic has affected the primary race in other ways as well. Some states decided to postpone their primaries or shift to vote-by-mail. Nearly 20 states have had to delay their primaries due to the coronavirus. The truncated timeline between the primary and the general election will alter campaign dynamics, which may impact who ultimately wins in November.

— Margaret Rose Henry

How will local elections be impacted with Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket?

Joe Biden will bring more voters to the polls in Delaware without a doubt. Biden, for the most part, has been a likeable person, so many in the state will feel a duty to go out and vote for him so that Delaware can be added to the few states that can claim a president. This is a plus for the Democrats who control everything in the state already.

— Joseph Miro

Democrats will benefit from having Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. They will want to send a very clear signal that they (we) can’t stand Trump and that we believe Joe Biden will be an outstanding president.

— Jack Markell

I think Vice President Joe Biden’s name at the top of the Democratic general election ballot will help immensely with the other Democratic down-ballot candidates like U.S. senators and congresspersons, governors, county executives, mayors and other candidates running for elective offices. The Delaware Democratic Committee is encouraging voters of all ages (because of the pandemic) to consider other voting platforms such as early voting, absentee voting and voting by mail. Those options would eliminate the need for voters to wait in long lines to vote. The voter turnout will be high because many believe that this may be the most important election of our time.

— Theodore Blunt

Democrats will win most seats, but that would have happened with many of the contenders at the top. Local issues will prevail and there will be some surprises.

— Joseph G. DiPinto

According to many opinion polls, less than one in five Americans trust the U.S. government. That is near a historic low. What can we do on the local level to improve that?

I believe everyone says this and to a certain percent, I believe this from a national perspective. However, when you ask them if the trust their own U.S. Senator and Congressperson, that number goes up. That’s because they know them, see them on local news, parades, chamber events, etc. But when you see one of their colleges behaving badly, you think everyone should not be trusted, same thing happens here in Delaware.

People that live in lower Delaware do not believe Wilmington state senators or representative have their best interest at heart and vice versa. What we all need to understand is that every elected official, for the most part, is doing everything they can to make our state and America better. We have to remember there are always bad apples in every line of business, not just government.

— Helene Keeley

Be transparent in policymaking. Share how are we managing COVID-19—weekly status reports are helpful: what do we need to do to improve outcomes?

Share with the people in Delaware what resources are available at the state level to help with: education, businesses, health concerns, public safety.

Elected officials can hold town meetings in their districts using social distance and requiring masks to hear from the public about what their concerns and suggestions and to help Delaware move forward.

— Margaret Rose Henry

The public perception of all governments needs to be improved. Elected officials need to remember who elected them and why she or he was elected. They need to fulfill their promises to the best of their abilities. Candidates should not promise actions that cannot be achieved just for the sake of getting elected.

We need more transparency and we need elected officials who communicate with their constituents. This was extremely apparent during the pandemic. As the state needed to push information out to residents, only Democratic legislators were given tools from the state to message to their constituents. Transparency in government and bipartisanship needs to become a priority in 2021. The health and welfare of all Delawareans should be the focus.

— Joseph Miro

Elected officials should focus on the things that real people care about and then deliver on their commitments. There’s no faster way to improve the standing of the government in the eyes of the public.

Officials across the country could learn something from our own congressional delegation—Senators Carper and Coons as well as Representative Blunt Rochester are less caught up in political rhetoric and more focused on the things that make a difference in the lives of real people.

— Jack Markell

The divergence to the far right by the federal government has created so many cracks in our society. Unless we change that, you can’t get trust back again.

The current president depends on anti-government people—who don’t like the government—who would rather see it abolished and another one established [and] people who are racist, who he patted on the head and said, “Oh, you’re good people, too.”

Things like that have created divisions in our country where people don’t feel that the government is ever going to operate correctly. So I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done going forward by both parties [and] by the religious community. A lot of evangelists have supported the president under [a] guise that he has supported all of the religious edicts that they would like people to uphold. These people ought to be ashamed of themselves, but they’re not. They give all kinds of excuses for all of his behavior.

If I did the misbehaving—that they have blinded themselves to—would they say, “It’s alright. We all make mistakes”? Well, they were preaching bloody murder about sinners and all of that beforehand. Now they just look at it and say, “Well, we understand womanizing, we understand lying.”

How can your religious community be so backwards? I watch it on television, and some of the things they say are just so outrageous and anti-religious in terms of what the Bible says. But they say it their way—and they have a right to—but all of this has to change. We have to have a different form of leadership.                     

  James M. Baker

So, what do you think? Please comment below.