Wednesday Q+A with Jack Markell

The Delaware governor holds forth on technology, Biden, and biking across the U.S.

Chet Susslin
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Feb. 23, 2016, 8 p.m.

Delaware Gov. Jack Mar­kell, a key Demo­crat­ic fig­ure dur­ing the last eight years, has strong opin­ions on how his party should move for­ward as his fi­nal term draws to a close. Our con­ver­sa­tion at the Na­tion­al Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation winter meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton, which touched on Hil­lary Clin­ton, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and more, has been ed­ited for clar­ity and length. In­ter­viewed by Zach C. Co­hen.

You’re term-lim­ited out of run­ning for gov­ernor again in Novem­ber, just as fin­an­cial-ser­vices re­form is reen­ter­ing the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion with the help of Bernie Sanders’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. What should your re­place­ment, or lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton, tackle on that front?

The fin­an­cial-ser­vices in­dustry in Delaware has really shif­ted to­ward a lot of tech­no­logy jobs. … You know, about a year and a half ago, two years ago, I asked all these em­ploy­ers in our state, “What is your re­cruit­ment strategy for hir­ing all these tech­no­logy work­ers?” And what they told me is, “Our re­cruit­ment strategy is we hire away from each oth­er,” which is a lousy re­cruit­ment strategy. … One of the great things that has come out of Wash­ing­ton has been this ini­ti­at­ive from the pres­id­ent called Tech­Hire. … [In Delaware], we de­veloped this new cod­ing school. It’s an in­tense pro­gram where they teach com­puter pro­gram­ming. Our first class gradu­ated about eight weeks ago, 16 em­ploy­ees. Their av­er­age salary be­fore they star­ted was $25,000 a year. Their av­er­age salary after the pro­gram: in ex­cess of $55,000.

Both Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors ran for pres­id­ent this year tout­ing their ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence as a qual­i­fic­a­tion, in­clud­ing your fel­low Mid-At­lantic gov­ernors Chris Christie and Mar­tin O’Mal­ley. Why do you think they have not done as well as their private-sec­tor or con­gres­sion­al coun­ter­parts?

I think this has been such an un­usu­al cam­paign cycle, where Sen­at­or Sanders and Don­ald Trump in par­tic­u­lar … have really been fo­cused on tap­ping in­to the an­ger that’s out there, as op­posed to of­fer­ing a pro­gram that’s fo­cused on how does the eco­nomy grow. It’s still hard for me to be­lieve that when this whole elec­tion isn’t over that we’re not go­ing to elect a pres­id­ent who ac­tu­ally has a plan to grow the eco­nomy.

You’ve en­dorsed Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton. Is that why?

Yeah. I mean, I think she is by far the best po­si­tioned to work with Con­gress across the aisle, and ac­tu­ally mov­ing the coun­try ahead.

If Vice Pres­id­ent Biden had run for pres­id­ent, would you have sup­por­ted him over Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton?

Yeah. In fact, I was wait­ing for him to get in. And it was when he de­cided not to run that I de­cided to en­dorse Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton, which she un­der­stood. I told her that after I en­dorsed. And she said, “Totally un­der­stand­able.” We’re very closely con­nec­ted. He’s an amaz­ing guy, great pub­lic ser­vant, and we’d all do whatever we could for him, whatever he de­cides to do.

Let’s say hy­po­thet­ic­ally that Sanders was the nom­in­ee. Would Demo­crats or a broad­er co­ali­tion end up sup­port­ing him any­way?

Look, I’m con­cerned, be­cause one sur­vey I saw said 50 per­cent of the people can’t see them­selves vot­ing for some­body who iden­ti­fies as a so­cial­ist. I think that’s a big prob­lem. And I also think he could have a really troub­ling im­pact on some of the down-bal­lot races.

Would it be an is­sue in Delaware?

Delaware has be­come a more re­li­ably blue state, for sure, and I think this will par­tic­u­larly play out in some of the more purple states. But it could play out in some of the purple dis­tricts with­in Delaware, in some of the down-bal­lot races.

You were head of the Na­tion­al Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation and the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation over the course of your ten­ure. Have you no­ticed any dif­fer­ences in how the bod­ies op­er­ate or how gov­ernors in­ter­act in an in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized polit­ic­al arena?

I’d say when the gov­ernors at the NGA get be­hind closed doors, and it’s just gov­ernors, you can barely tell who’s the Demo­crat and who’s the Re­pub­lic­an. … Most of the things that we work on as gov­ernors are not par­tic­u­larly par­tis­an. When you’re talk­ing about im­prov­ing jobs, im­prov­ing schools, keep­ing people safe, deal­ing with nat­ur­al dis­asters—those are not Demo­crat­ic or Re­pub­lic­an is­sues. We really look to learn from each oth­er, wheth­er the good ideas start with a Demo­crat or a Re­pub­lic­an.

Any plans after re­tire­ment?

Not yet. I’ve got 11 months to go. I want to fin­ish out as strong as I can. The fu­ture will take care of it­self. … I’d love to ride my bike across coun­try. … There’s a dif­fer­ence between rid­ing, you know, 80 miles in a day, which I’ve done, to rid­ing 80 miles for, like, 52 con­sec­ut­ive days, which I haven’t done.

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