Posted: Jan. 24, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Jack Markell did not choreograph any traffic jams with orange cones on the Delaware Memorial Bridge before he gave his State of the State speech.

All he did was take a bunch of sketchy campaign contributions.

It meant Markell could stride to the podium, the picture of confidence, when he entered the state House of Representatives on Thursday in Legislative Hall in Dover to give his sixth annual address as the Democratic governor.

He looked exactly like someone who was re-elected in 2012 with 69 percent and saw his approval basically remain there about a year later, with a favorable rating of 62 percent in a poll taken for the University of Delaware, no matter how much the opposition chanted Fisker-Fisker-Fisker.

The chamber was crammed. Markell basked in a sustained ovation, as people were swept up in the irresistible pageantry of democracy, and before he gave his speech, he kissed the first lady with the savoir faire of a man who meant it.

Beau Biden was there. He was as thin as a greyhound, his hair was the buzz cut of a boot camp recruit, and his features seemed darker. Nevertheless, he was the first one through the door as the Democratic attorney general in the procession of statewide officeholders invited for the speech.

Biden sat amicably enough with Chip Flowers, the Democratic treasurer, even though Biden's office put a stake through Flowers just two months ago with an attorney general's opinion, telling him to forget about his power struggle for the state's investment portfolio and get back to being the official government bookkeeper.

Still, this was a day to focus on the governor and his stewardship of Delaware.

"I think I'm doing fine. The people of Delaware will decide that years from now," Markell said in an interview on the fly as he took the grand staircase in the Legislative Hall lobby to his office.

There is really not much of a question what will decide what Delawareans think about Markell, and it will not be any funky campaign contributions.

It will be whether Delaware manages to reach escape velocity during his governorship from the downward economic spiral the Great Recession pulled it into. He says the state is getting there.

"The state of our state is stronger today than when I addressed you a year ago," Markell declared in the signature line of his speech.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle saw the economy as much more of a determinant on Markell than the report on campaign finance in Delaware politics from Norman Veasey, the former chief justice appointed as an independent counsel.

The report was not only unspectacular, coming after a two-year investigation costing about $1 million, but dropped in sheepish fashion on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Karen Peterson, a Democratic state senator, based her assessment of Markell on the economy. "I guess he's doing as well as can be expected, given the economy. I certainly give him an 'A' for effort. He's not up for re-election so [the Veasey report] didn't hurt him," she said.

Greg Lavelle, the Senate's Republican minority whip, dinged Markell on "an understandable political reluctance to acknowledge our very stagnant economy" but did not envision any political fallout for him from the Veasey report.

"He won 70-30. You can't argue with that. I'm sure he wasn't happy about [the report], but I think the public gets jaded on that stuff," Lavelle said.

Somehow the comments after a State of the State are always in contrast to the rapturous reception the governor gets for giving it. This is the way of Legislative Hall, as Pete du Pont once recalled in humorous remarks in 1985, when his two terms as the Republican governor were nearly over.

"The Cabinet, judiciary and both houses of the legislature give me a standing ovation. Each time I shake the hands of members on the way out, they congratulate me on delivering a great speech and tell me what a good fellow I am," du Pont said.

Then come the comments to the press. Democratic legislators rip him. Republican legislators rip him. Even his Cabinet damns him with faint praise. Only the judges keep their own counsel.

"In their silence is the only solace I've ever found," du Pont quipped.