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Editorial: Minner was the Delaware ying to du Pont’s yang

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Ruth Ann Minner, who served as Delaware’s first female governor from 2001-09, died Nov. 4 at age 86. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

I was saddened to learn of the Nov. 4 passing of former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a woman who overcame a life fraught with difficulties with characteristic aplomb, broke many political barriers in her rise and held steadfast to her ideals even in the stormiest of seas.

Jacob Owens
Delaware Business Times

I recall the vitriol that she faced in the decision to fight for Delaware’s 2002 ban on indoor smoking as part of a larger plan to lower statewide cancer rates that were then-frighteningly high – they haven’t improved as much as we hoped, as Delaware ranked second per capita nationwide in cancer cases in a report issued last month.

Casino and bar owners particularly led a campaign against Minner for backing the measure, which at the time made Delaware only the second state behind California to enact such a ban. Despite the calls to “Ban Ruth Ann” and the hit the policy took on her poll numbers – Minner would barely survive re-election in 2004 – she remained steadfast in her goal. She knew what the consequence was after losing her second husband to cancer.

Today, the hostess’ question of “Smoking or non-smoking?” seems like a far-off memory rather than something that was still happening just 20 years ago. Cleaner air and fewer worries about the impact on the health of my young children are something I owe to Minner’s resolve.

We can also thank the late governor for spending years of her political capital to push the needs of public education forward, including full-day kindergarten, additional reading resource specialists in schools and the creation of the nation’s first scholarship program to offer free college tuition to students who behaved and earned good grades. How much farther behind our rich neighboring states would we be without those accomplishments.

All of her goals as governor, and much of her efforts as lieutenant governor and as a state legislator, were predicated on the idea of providing opportunity for the next generation. Opportunity for a healthier future, a path to higher education, a state where rural and urban lifestyles could still easily be found, and so much more.

Former Gov. Pete du Pont died in May after a long illness. He is widely credited with the growth of financial services in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF PDFF

As I reflected on the legacy that Minner leaves behind, it struck me that the First State has lost two of its most effective chief executives in six months. Former Republican Gov. Pierre “Pete” du Pont IV, who reined in state government gone amok, fostered an economic development boom and created the bipartisan “Delaware Way,” passed in May.

Minner was the daughter of a sharecropper who dropped out of high school to help her family, raised three sons and fought through the deaths of two husbands to make her way in politics. In contrast, du Pont was an heir to arguably the most important and wealthy family in Delaware history, who rejected the easy life path for one in politics.

They differed on their goals, in seemingly congruent Republican versus Democrat form. Du Pont sought to limit government, provide incentive for private business and allow the opportunity to trickle down to workers. Minner sought a more active government that aided the everyday teacher, waitress and farmer, directing what few extra state dollars could be found in down economic times to support efforts that could make a difference.

President Joe Biden, who knew both du Pont and Minner well, eulogized his late friend at her Nov. 10 funeral, saying, “What made her so powerful: She expressed what she really thought and felt. Didn’t have to be cloaked in poetic language, just what she thought.”

“Let her be remembered as a leader who understood that democracy was a lot more than a form of government. Democracy is a way of being. It begins and grows in an open heart and with a willingness to come together by searching to find a common cause — not always the same exact answer, but a common cause.”

In many ways, I think the president is describing du Pont’s “Delaware Way ” in saying that. Both Minner and du Pont were forced to contend with a divided state government compared to today’s total Democratic rule. Those deliberations, as contentious as they were, have ultimately produced a Delaware that was better for them.

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