EDITORIAL: What to focus on in momentous Delaware election
With Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long’s gubernatorial campaign announcement this month that most of the anticipated Delaware candidates in the highest-profile statewide races have now entered the fray, and the 2024 election season is officially in full swing.
Hall-Long will face off against New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer in a Democratic primary that will be one to watch, while State Sen. Sarah McBride, State Housing Authority Director Eugene Young Jr. and State Treasurer Colleen Davis square off in a race for Delaware’s lone congressional seat – a position that has traditionally been a springboard to the Governor’s Mansion.
While Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester looks to have a runaway campaign set for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of her mentor Tom Carper, the race for lieutenant governor is also one of interest, drawing State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker and retired U.S. Army Col. Debbie Harrington, to date.
Come January 2025, Delaware will have a new governor, lieutenant governor, congressional representative, senator, and New Castle County executive at a minimum, marking a truly momentous moment of change in the First State.
While Democrats are likely to continue their hold on most, if not all, statewide races in next year’s campaign, the ideological, generational and diversity splits among those Democratic candidates so far are quite huge.
With so much at stake and a variety of priorities by candidates, I do believe there are a few core challenges confronting the immediate future of Delaware that I hope they discuss before the Sept. 3, 2024, primary.
The Carney administration has reshaped economic development in Delaware over the past eight years and scored a number of enormous victories, including Amazon’s Boxwood facility, Delmarva Corrugated Packaging’s plant, and WuXi STA Pharmaceutical’s major campus.
Much of the success in those pursuits is accredited to the leadership of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the state’s public-private economic development organization that was first proposed by state business leaders ahead of the 2016 election. Gov. John Carney embraced a relationship with Delaware’s private sector leaders, and it has paid innumerable dividends in changing the state’s reputation to being business friendly.
I hope Carney’s successor likewise sees the wisdom in partnering with business leaders, but he or she will also be confronted with a vastly different employment market than when Carney first took office.
Today, businesses are struggling to remain fully staffed amid an environment where thousands of jobs statewide remain unfilled, and most job candidates have more than one option at hand. In some cases – especially in non-degree fields like advanced manufacturing – those jobs are vacant because jobseekers don’t know about them or don’t have the proper foundational training.
The next generation of state leaders need to be focused on how to attract new workers to Delaware – not just retirees from northern states – who can help power the business growth underway here. They also must be committed to helping residents train for the jobs of the future and embrace the state’s changing economy.
While progress has been made toward the stated “Ready in Six” goal of pushing projects through Delaware’s planning stages within six months, there is more work to be done to hit the target. Plan approval between state, county and local authorities across a variety of departments and elected and appointed bodies continues to be a cumbersome affair for some projects.
Delaware can, and should, improve its processes to ensure that momentum isn’t lost when the private sector is prepared to invest here.
Connected to the challenges surrounding worker attraction is the increasingly high cost of housing in Delaware, where home values have boomed since the pandemic amid a wave of arrivals, particularly retirees from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The median sale price for a home in Delaware in July was about $378,000, according to the Delaware Association of Realtors – or more $60,000 more than the median price from just two years ago. Combined with mortgage interest rates that are now sitting around 8%, many young families are being priced out of Delaware’s real estate market.
With an average household income of about $73,000 in 2021, many families can afford homes priced between $200,000 and $250,000, depending on circumstances – a slice of the housing market that is rapidly disappearing here.
The state’s next set of leaders will be challenged with not only building additional low-income housing, where tens of thousands of units are needed, but also encouraging development of starter homes that are priced lower than the median market price. That may require the approval of new subsidies, grants or tax credits, but failure to consider how to address the issue may result in a generational migration of young workers out of Delaware, further straining the state’s workforce needs.
The troubling post-pandemic scores from Delaware’s public schools that show less than half of students are meeting subject proficiency in reading, math and the sciences will require leadership to right the ship.
Carney’s Wilmington Learning Collaborative has helped to bring partners together in the state’s largest city, but challenges remain statewide in attracting teachers, rolling out new curriculum and engaging with communities to reverse lingering learning losses after COVID that compound by the year.
The next state leaders need to prioritize education reform to ensure that future generations of Delawareans are well prepared.