On October 6th, 2016 Matt Meyer, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the position of Executive of New Castle County in Delaware and Mark Blake the GOP nominee, shared their political philosophies with students at the University of Delaware. They were speaking to about 80 students and guests in my class on Contemporary Political Ideologies. They were challenged to reflect on how their normative and political values influenced their political priorities.
They both began their talks by arguing that ideology did not really matter at the county government level because at that level it was really about efficient management of resources rather than some grand normative or ideological implementation. They both used the example of taking care of the county’s sewage, an important and apparently central responsibility of the New Castle County Executive, to emphasize the lack of glamor in the job they were seeking. Both argued that good ideas and good management were more important than ideological positions.
Mark Blake argued that he was essentially a fiscal conservative and his conservativeness stopped at that point and on most social issues he was ‘swishy’; He explained a swishy conservative as one who leaned more towards liberal approaches to social issues but was conservative on fiscal matters. Essentially the reverse of a blue dog Democrat. He described his ideology as someone who feels that there should be no government waste and the more money we save from cutting inefficiencies the more we would have to spend on programs. He was not against government programs, just government waste.
I was disappointed that neither Meyer nor my students challenged him on this claim. It appeared to me that he was saying I am a democrat, I believe in government programs, except I am smarter when it comes to managing money, I will extract more bang from every buck we spend. He was effectively saying that the only difference between him and other Democrats is that he would waste less doing the same things. To be fair to him, the demographics of Delaware are so heavily skewed in favor of Democrats that there is no other platform on which a Republican candidate can make a more credible run for any office.
However, as we moved from opening remarks to question and answer session it became apparent ideology matters even in local government.
Most questions asked were about race and policing and appropriately so since 63% of the county’s budget is spent on public safety. As students probed the differences between the two speakers on police training, on police recruitment, use of technology such as body cameras, it became clear that there were subtle ideological differences between the two candidates. For example, on more than one occasion Meyer pointed out that it was not policing but development and job creation which reduced crime and Blake on more than one occasion spoke of raising salaries of the County’s police force in order to retain them.
From a pedagogical perspective, the most interesting issue discussed was raised by Matt Meyer who advanced a critique of Federalism itself. He pointed out that there are over a million and a half people in the City of Philadelphia and they are governed by one unit of government, the city government of Philadelphia whereas there are roughly half that number of people in Delaware but they are governed by over thirty governments. There must be so much overlap and inefficiencies he argued. But he recognized that as County Executive he cannot rewrite the State’s constitution. But he would try to eliminate redundancies in execution of programs such as sector 8, a Federal housing assistance program.
The two candidates are both very knowledgeable about the county and clearly both are motivated to improve the economic and public safety situation of the county. Meyer is new to local politics but he has great ideas and given that the State is governed mostly by Democrats he is more likely to succeed as County Executive than a lone Republican in a blue sea. But Blake has more intimate knowledge of the workings of the County government. He has been critiquing it for years.
The conversation was very engaging and balancing. It explored both political ideas and policy priorities. It gave students an insight into real life politics and they heard both sides of the story, and the politicians got an opportunity to reflect on the theoretical and philosophical side of politics. What more can a Professor ask for?