Wednesday Q+A with Jack Markell

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

Chet Susslin
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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