Sen. Thomas Carper (D)
Elected: 2000, term expires 2012, 2nd term.
Born: Jan. 23, 1947, Beckley, WV .
Education: OH St. U., B.A. 1968, U. of DE, M.B.A. 1975.
Family: Married (Martha); 2 children.
Military career: Navy, 1968–73 (Vietnam); Naval Reserves, 1973–91.
Elected office: DE treas., 1976–82; U.S. House of Reps., 1982–92; DE gov. 1992-2000.
Professional Career: Industrial devel. specialist, DE Div. of Econ. Devel., 1975–76.
DemocratTom Carper, after over three decades in statewide office, is Delaware’s senior senator. He grew up in Southside Virginia and Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University. He first came to Delaware as an ensign in the Navy, then returned to get his M.B.A. after service in Southeast Asia, where he was a mission commander piloting submarine-hunting planes. In 1976, he was elected state treasurer, at age 29. He ran for Congress in 1982 and beat a scandal-tarred incumbent. In the House, Carper had a moderate voting record and worked to let banks into the securities business and to prevent ocean sludge dumping, both causes supported by Delaware constituencies. In 1992, when Republican Gov. Mike Castle was term-limited and ran for the House, Carper ran for governor and won the general election with 65% of the vote.
|Thomas Carper (D)||170,567||(70%)||($2,632,603)|
|Jan Ting (R)||69,734||(29%)||($212,765)|
|Thomas Carper (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2000 (56%), 1996 (70%), 1992 (65%), 1990 House (66%), 1988 House (68%), 1986 House (66%), 1984 House (59%), 1982 House (52%)
As governor, Carper pursued an agenda in many ways more conservative than liberal. He continued former Republican Gov. Pete du Pont’s policy of cutting taxes, reducing income tax rates (about 10%) and also cutting small business and utility taxes. Revenues gushed in from Delaware’s strong economy, and he boosted the state’s credit rating to a historic high even as state spending rose 40% in eight years. He also signed a bill authorizing charter schools. He was re-elected by 70%-30% over then-Treasurer Janet Rzewnicki. Barred from a third term, he ran in 2000 for the Senate seat held by Republican William Roth since 1970.
This was a battle of positives. Both candidates had very high approval ratings at home, and both were familiar figures to many voters; they brought a combined total of 58 years in statewide office to the race. Roth had a record of achievements that paid direct benefits to people in this generally affluent state: the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, the Roth IRAs enacted in 1997, the reform of the Internal Revenue Service passed in 1998, $2.3 billion for Amtrak capital improvements in 1998. Roth’s main problem was that he was 79 years old in 2000. When Carper announced his candidacy in September 1999, a poll showed him ahead 48%-38%. He was careful not to campaign negatively against Roth or to attack him for his age, but his slogan “A Senator for Our Future” spotlighted the contrast between their ages. Carper’s 16-hour campaign days contrasted with Roth’s approach; he stayed in Washington and made only a few campaign appearances with his trademark St. Bernard dogs. Roth outspent Carper, $4.3 million to $2.5 million, but the Democratic Party spent some $4 million in Delaware, more than evening the score. In October, Roth fainted twice on the campaign trail, once in full view of cameras. Polls showed the race close to even in September and October, but in November, Carper won by a solid 56%-44%.
In the Senate, Carper has had one of the more moderate voting records among Democrats, and is a vice chairman of the moderate-to-conservative Democratic Leadership Council. With five Republicans and five other Democrats, he moved unsuccessfully to condition the Bush tax cut on deficit reduction. In 2001, he and Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire got $125 million for public school choice programs and $400 million for charter schools. On Social Security privatization, he said in 2005, “I don’t rule out at some point having private accounts.” Carper supported President Bush’s nomination of John Roberts as Supreme Court Chief Justice but voted against Samuel Alito. In 2007, he voted to fund Bush’s plan for a surge of troop strength in Iraq.
Carper has taken a major role in clean air legislation. In his first Senate term, he voted with Independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont to impose Clean Air Act regulations on old power plants. In 2006, he co-sponsored with Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee a bill to limit emissions not only of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and mercury, as called for in the Bush Clear Skies bill, but also carbon dioxide. He also supported the so-called cap-and-trade mechanism, which imposes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions but allows companies to buy emissions “credits” from companies that pollute less. In 2007, he co-sponsored the McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill, but later that year, declined to back a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill because it did not include limits on mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. After a federal appeals court rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury rules in February 2008, he pressed for tougher enforcement of them. On the issue of car emissions, Carper in May 2007 proposed a credit for cars that can run on both gasoline and renewable fuels, and $50 million in financing for advanced battery technology research; he supported a compromise bill that passed in December 2007. He has called for increased use of nuclear energy and was the only Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee to support the Bush EPA’s decision to deny California a waiver so it could impose more stringent auto emissions regulations.
On the Governmental Affairs Committee, Carper worked with moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine to pass in December 2006 the first major revision of Postal Service business operations since 1970. (More than half of credit card issuers have operations in Delaware, and that industry provides one-quarter of the Postal Service’s mail.) Their bill provided for a streamlined rate-increase procedure and for holding increases below inflation for 10 years; it passed after last-minute compromises with postal unions and retiree groups. He has also called for stepped-up efforts to collect unpaid taxes and to recover sums wrongly paid out by the government. And he has called attention to the government’s difficulties in using information technology, notably the Census Bureau’s problems developing handheld devices for the 2010 census. And in 2007, he teamed with Alexander to extend the 1998 moratorium on Internet taxation for another four years.
Carper supported the bankruptcy bill long sought by Delaware’s credit card industry, but has since responded to criticism of industry practices. In June 2007, he backed an amendment for clearer disclosure of interest rate changes and encouraged the industry to develop a “gold standard” of disclosure.
Delaware is a small state in which unusually large percentages of voters actually meet with their elected representatives in person. It has a unique tradition of Return Day, the day after the election, in which losing candidates along with winners take part in a parade in the town of Georgetown. It is a familiar ritual for Carper, who has been elected to statewide office 12 times, more than anyone else in Delaware history. As might be expected of such a seasoned pol, he has paid attention to local issues. He was quick to complain in 2007 when the Department of Homeland Security issued a rule that would require buyers of more than 7,500 pounds of propane gas to register with the department. The rule was opposed by Delaware’s chicken growers; there are about 300 chickens in the state to every person. Working often with Democrat Joe Biden, then the state’s senior senator, and Republican Rep. Mike Castle, the state’s at-large House member, he has brought federal dollars to the state: $4 million for the University of Delaware at Lewes to study onshore wind, $2.25 million for a fireboat for the Wilmington Fire Department, and $10 million for desert-ready combat jackets from Delaware-based W. L. Gore. In March 2008, after such earmarking of federal funds for local projects became controversial, Carper said he would begin to disclose his earmarks.
In 2006, Carper was re-elected, 70%-29%. Over his long career, he has had ties with just about every Democratic politician. In 2007, he tried to get state Treasurer Jack Markell, who had served in his gubernatorial Cabinet, to run for lieutenant governor, so that Democratic Lt. Gov. John Carney, whom he had recruited for office a decade before, would be unopposed in the primary for governor. But Markell ran for governor anyway, beat Carney in the primary and was elected in November. Carper had supported Biden’s unsuccessful presidential candidacy and expressed pleasure when Barack Obama picked him for vice president. Carper and Castle appeared in a film made by Delaware natives called Jack of Clubs.