Posted: July 1, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When Pete du Pont's days as governor were winding down, he kept having the same dream.

He wanted a yellow legal pad in the dream, but he could not find one and nobody would give him one. Clearly some separation anxiety going on.

The dream was so persistent for du Pont, the Republican governor from 1977 to 1985, he eventually told his staff about it. Tony Flynn, his legal counsel who calls du Pont "a great client" to this very day, decided to set things right.

When du Pont stepped into an elevator to exit Legislative Hall in Dover for the last time, shortly after Mike Castle was inaugurated as Delaware's next Republican governor, Flynn reached in just before the door closed and handed du Pont a yellow legal pad.

It is a big change not to be governor anymore.

Otherwise, Tom Carper would not still be talking about himself, even after 16 years as a Democratic senator, as a "recovering governor."

Jack Markell just passed a milestone on his way to finding out what it is like. His final June 30th, the last night of the legislative session, as the Democratic governor is behind him.

It was the usual political fun house of an all-nighter, full of tomfoolery, humbug, hocus pocus, droning debates, hang-doggery, gamesmanship, comic relief and sleeplessness until enough got done to call it quits, and Markell signed a new budget into law to keep the state going for another year about 20 minutes before sunrise on Friday morning and Legislative Hall emptied out.

Only eight Delawareans ever experienced what Markell did -- Douglass Buck, Walter Bacon, Bert Carvel, Caleb Boggs, Pete du Pont, Mike Castle, Tom Carper and Ruth Ann Minner -- as a two-term governor at the end of the legislature.

The main reason the list is so short for a state that has been around for 240 years is governors used to be limited to a single four-year term, until the Constitution of 1897 let them stay for another one. (The very earliest governors were elected for three-year terms.)

Markell is figuring he will be just fine in the afterlife.

"I'm going to work as hard as I can to the end and not look back," he said. "Eight years is a good number, and I think it's a good thing to have term limits. It's not enough time to do everything I want, but it's enough time to do a lot."

As for the future, Markell sounds like a human Magic 8 Ball that can get nothing but ask-again-later to pop up.

"I have no idea. The truth is, I don't know," he said.

Whatever comes, Markell can take it from Castle, who switched from governor to congressman in 1992, there will be some readjustments ahead.

"It's a lifestyle. You're surrounded by a lot of staff taking care of you. If he goes cold turkey out of politics, there are things you'll miss, like the convenience of having the police officers drive you around," Castle said.

"The best of the political jobs out there may be governor when the state is doing well. When you're governor, you basically set the agenda, and everything goes through you, for better or worse."

Markell marked his last June 30th by bicycling about 60 miles to Dover with Valerie Longhurst, the state House's Democratic majority leader, and Dave Sokola, a Democratic state senator.

The session itself was the usual silliness. The state House of Representatives got huffy because it thought its bills were being neglected by the state Senate, so it held up the annual construction budget until the leadership finally negotiated a truce somewhere around three in the morning.

In other words, it was about as routine as a political sideshow can be, but it is not always so for departing governors.

Castle, for one. June 30th hardly even registered on him, because he had other things on his mind. Like Jane Castle, who was giving Delaware something it lacked until Castle's last year as governor, namely, a first lady.

"In my case, I was getting married. My thought wasn't really on June 30th, plus I was running for the House," Castle said.

Tom Carper might have had the most unsettling June 30th of all. Exactly 20 years ago, in 1996, his scheduler was missing.

Anne Marie Fahey had not shown up for work. The 30-year-old aide could not be found anywhere. Suspicion fell almost immediately on Tom Capano, the wealthy and politically connected lawyer with a charming air and a roving eye.

It took years before Capano was arrested and then convicted in one of Delaware's most sensational murder trials ever in 1999, but it seeped into state politics on June 30th, as Carper was finishing up his first term and running for re-election.

While the annual legislative session is over for Markell, he still has more than six months to go as governor and intends to make the most of it.

"I'm really proud of the progress we've made. I am probably more energized now than at any other time, because I have gotten the opportunity to meet people whose lives are a little bit better," he said.

Like the two kids who saw Markell at St. Anthony's Italian Festival and thanked him for getting their father's job back at the Delaware City refinery. Like the students who are fluent in Spanish or Chinese because of language immersion classes. Like the gay couples who can get married.

Also there are benefits to moving beyond the last June 30th. Markell reflected on it on Monday, three days before the end of the legislature, while he stood outside the UDairy Creamery, the University of Delaware's ice cream shop in Newark.

As Markell put it, "There are two places you can go and it's always happy. One is an elementary school, and the other is an ice cream store. Then I have to go to Dover."