Posted: Jan. 21, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Jack Markell and Tom Carper are politicking like it is 1999. So 20th Century.

They are taking a pass on backing Sean Barney as he moves toward a Democratic primary against Chip Flowers, the state treasurer whose wild ride in office has put him on the endangered incumbent list for 2014.

This, even though Barney took a bullet in the neck for his country and worked on the staffs of Markell in the governor's office and Carper in his Senate office.

It does not seem right. It does not even seem like the right politics for the 21st Century.

Once upon a time, back in the roaring 1900s, when Delaware had two vigorous parties, primaries were regarded as a kiss of political death. The party that had one could count on being divided and conquered, and politicians did whatever they could not to be pulled into them, but times change.

Primaries are increasingly determining the elections. This is how it goes, now that Delaware is a one-party state dominated by the Democrats. It was the way Markell got to be the governor. It is the way Flowers got to be the treasurer.

Even Chris Coons got to be a Democratic senator through a primary. It just happened to be the Republican primary, when Christine O'Donnell took out Mike Castle.

The field for the treasurer's race is not set yet. While the Democrats have Flowers and Barney lining up, the Republicans have Ken Simpler Jr., a financial professional, and possibly Colin Bonini, a state senator who ran the last time in 2010 and expects to decide by April 30 whether to try again.

By now, a lot of people have heard Sean Barney's story, dating from Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a 26-year-old aide on a morning conference call with Carper, who was on the train to Washington.

First they heard there had been a terrible accident with a plane crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City. Then they heard another plane hit, and New York was under a terrorist attack. Then a secretary told them to get out of the office because a plane was heading for the Capitol.

"It was then we realized the world we'd lived in that morning didn't exist anymore," Barney said.

Barney decided to join the Marine Corps. Never mind that he had gone to college at Swarthmore with its Quaker heritage. Never mind that Carper, a Navy veteran, tried to talk him out of it, saying he was doing his part by working in a Senate office.

Barney thought he would go to Afghanistan, but he wound up in Iraq. On patrol in Fallujah as a lance corporal, he took a sniper's bullet through the neck and survived by grace and modern medicine.

After a medical discharge, Barney went to Yale law school -- he passed the Delaware bar exam but still needs to complete a checklist of activities to be admitted as a lawyer -- and came to work for Markell as his policy director.

That is, until Barney resigned at the end of December to lay the groundwork for a campaign, amid a rising clamor from Democrats for a candidate to run against Flowers.

This can happen when someone bungles credit card usage, travel and personnel in his office, initiates a power struggle for the state's $2 billion investment portfolio, and gets on the wrong side of the governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state, the finance secretary, the budget director and the legislative leadership, all from his own party.

Markell is a former treasurer. Carper is a former treasurer. Barney is their guy. What a moment for them to step forward, right? Not by their chinny-chin-chins.

Here is Markell's statement: "Sean was a valuable member of the governor's office, and I encouraged him not to run and remain part of the team. I respect his decision to run, and I respect his service to our nation and Delaware, but I'm not planning on endorsing any candidate in the primary for state treasurer."

Here is Carper's: "Sean Barney is a former staffer of mine, and he remains a good friend. He has the heart of a servant. He may also be the brightest, most courageous person I've ever had the privilege to work with. He is a hero to me and a role model for Marines, for U.S. military personnel and for Americans from all walks of life. . . .

"Sean and I talk from time to time about his future aspirations and professional goals, but I haven't offered specific recommendations about what his next step should be. The 2014 elections are still a long ways off, and it is far too early to talk about supporting prospective candidates."

Politics is not the Marines. Bodies get left all over political battlefields.

Meanwhile, Barney is not knocking anybody, not Markell, not Carper, not even Flowers.

"Public service to me is honorable. I've had the privilege of serving my country overseas and the privilege of serving two of the more remarkable public servants in the state," Barney said.

"I'm offering the people of Delaware an alternative. The people will get to know my record of service. It will be up to them to decide, and ultimately the people of Delaware usually get it right."

What a contrast. There is Semper Fi, and there is Semper Fie.