It’s the political season and election days are quickly approaching. Many Delawareans will take advantage of greatly expanded mail-in voting and cast a ballot via mail ahead of the primary elections September 15th and the general election November 3rd. There are many primary challenges up and down the state at every level of elected office.
Candidates will discuss many issues they deem important to address, but after the election will action be taken? Will the candidate you trust with your vote be a leader on the city council, in the General Assembly, or the US Congress? Or will they be subsumed by the process and be initiated into the cult of “the way things are done around here.”
In February of this year, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer appeared on the Highlands Bunker podcast for a wide-ranging discussion about the Delaware Board of Trade, housing, real estate tax reassessment, and the NCCo Police Union.
In this exchange, we discuss the difference between electoral campaign rhetoric and legislative action and how to weigh political realities against expectations. Understanding these dynamics will help strategize, organize, and hold leaders accountable during their terms in office.
Originally released February 7th, 2020. This exchange begins at 43:51 and has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rob: Do you think that there is a need for – rather than what I would call good administration – is there a need for political leadership?
Meyer: I think you need both.
Rob: Absolutely, obviously you don’t want an inspirational person who can’t read. I get that.
Meyer: You know it’s 2020. We’re going to the polls at least three times – if you’re in certain school districts four or more times – this year. Listen not just to the solutions your candidates propose but also how they define the problems. What are the problems they see themselves as solving? Because I think candidates look at our society in very different ways and see their role and the kind of political leadership they need to provide in very different ways.
We need seriously bold leadership on guns. I think it’s crazy that we live in a society where there are people who are demanding a right to go out and shoot quail, shoot deer, and there are people demanding that 13 year-olds don’t shoot each other in their neighborhoods. And somehow we can’t reconcile those two things. We can’t as a society figure it out. I think like you’re referring to, maybe we’re not figuring it out because people don’t really want to. Or they’re not expressing – they’re not being told – hey, let’s just do this.
Rob: Guns is a tough one for me. I don’t know if you’ve heard my [position]…
Meyer: Yeah, I’ve heard you
Rob: It’s kind of a complicated thing. I look at those as two different issues actually. I certainly think assault weapons should be banned. Semiautomatic assault weapons are weapons of war. They’re just killing machines. There’s no reason to have one. You can’t have one. If you want to shoot a deer or quail or you want to shoot skeet, that’s all cool. Do that.
So we have to convince those sportsmen folks, or the people who want to have something for protection that we’re not looking to change that part of it. That’s fine.
The idea of 9mm handguns being passed around a group of 15 year-olds on the Eastside or in Riverside, or maybe in this neighborhood for all I know, is a different issue than that. That’s actually what you were talking about before. Rather than sequester people in terrible neighborhoods and over-police them actually going in and saying “hey you’re our neighbors too”. You should have good schools. You should have more services. There should be supermarkets and doctor’s offices here and everything. We don’t do that.
So I look at those as separate things. I move those things apart. People just talk about guns and put them together. This is the toughest one in this state. For something that’s so tiny, we go from some of the most rural areas to some of the most urban areas…
…People need to articulate this stuff. It’s articulated during an election cycle because people talk about guns or whatever topic. And they give you their opinion on the topic. And then after the election cycle is more of like “well, we’re just going to run the engine here” and we’ll talk about it the next election cycle.
Meyer: Yeah. And nothing changes.
Rob: People need to articulate what they stand for and what they would like to do materially all the time. That’s what leaders do.
Meyer: Obamacare is a great example. Obama – I think – in 2008 when senator Obama was a candidate for president I bet you if you would have put something in front of him that looked like Obamacare – which was then called Romneycare – it was Mitt Romney’s healthcare program in Massachusetts. I think senator Obama would have said no we don’t want that. He came in wanting something much more ambitious. But it got to the point – with the Congress he was dealing with – Romneycare was the best he could get. So he got it and it was Obamacare. And it was, I think, a step forward for the country. Was it everything we needed or wanted? No. It sort of made everyone buy private insurance. It was the biggest boon for private insurance. But in terms of eliminating pre-existing conditions, in terms of providing healthcare to millions who previously did not have healthcare – it was ambitious and it was much better than what we had before. So there’s an interesting dynamic where you can say “wait a minute Obama didn’t go far enough” or you can say given the hand he was dealt and the political realities he was looking at he got as far as we could’ve gotten in that time.
Rob: Perhaps. My concern is what happened afterwards. What happened afterwards was just a bunch of defense because this was the best deal we could negotiate at the time that’s done. Now we’re just on defense for the next six years making sure it gets through these Supreme Court cases. Now little bits will get peeled away and peeled away and peeled away. Because no one stood up and said this is what we’ve got to do.
I don’t disagree with you. It was certainly an improvement. I don’t think any reasonable person can say that it wasn’t. But there’s something happening in there that I think is very telling. And that’s it [what’s missing]. To continue to make the argument.
As you said it was a giveaway to insurance companies and it just kept the system in place. It said this system is good, but we’ll try to pump some money into it to make it available to more people. But the system’s not good. And people need to just say that.
You used the example of the healthcare system but I could say it about any number of structural things. There’s a political reality and I think people understand that. But that doesn’t mean we have to succumb to it every day.