Alert 521: In contempt of the people–the campaign for Attorney General of Delaware

[Originally published Nov 6, 2006]

“Criminals never ask their victims if they are Republicans or Democrats.”
“After 26 years as a prosecutor, I know that some things are right; I know that some things are wrong…”
— Ferris Wharton, from campaign website 
“DuPont has been an outstanding corporate citizen for many decades.”
— Beau Biden, heard on WDEL radio
“While Delaware’s candidates for attorney general talk nonstop about local issues, $1.5 million from two well-heeled national political benefactors has poured into this tiny state in hopes of influencing the outcome and furthering the groups’ U.S. and global goals.” 
— Chris Barrish, The (Wilmington) News Journal 

 

One of the few highly visible campaigns in Delaware is the contest between long-time prosecutor Ferris Wharton ( http://www.ferriswharton.com/) and Beau Biden ( http://www.bidenag.com/), son of the Senator, to be elected Attorney General (AG) of Delaware.

Some background

Delaware apparently has had attorneys general since 1723.  They were appointed by the governor until the Constitution of 1897 was adopted, making the office an elected one. (http://www.state.de.us/attgen/main_page/history.shtml).

The Constitution says little about the role of the AG except in a few specific matters.   There are no general statements about the qualifications or duties of the AG, who is NOT required to be a lawyer. (http://www.state.de.us/facts/constit/de_const.htm)

In 1969 the General Assembly created the present Department of Justice, which seems to be the same thing as the “Attorney General’s Office.”  The responsibilities of the AG are defined there, and include:

“…to provide legal advice, counsel and services for administrative offices, agencies, departments, boards, commissions and officers of the state government …”; and 

“To investigate matters involving the public peace, safety and justice …”; and

“To have charge of all criminal proceedings  …”

(29 Del. Code 2504, http://www.delcode.state.de.us/title29/c025/sc01/index.htm).

Note that the AG does not report to the governor, but it independently elected.  This means the AG can be of a different party from the governor and can have different goals.  At the same time, the AG provides legal services to the state agencies controlled by the governor (such as DNREC).

This can create a conflict of interest.  Suppose, for example, that the AG wants to help and protect air polluters while the Governor, controlling DNREC, wants to do something about air pollution such as make stricter regulations or enforce existing ones.  DNREC’s legal staff is provided by the AG.  Which agenda will prevail–that of the AG or that of the client agency–DNREC?

Doubtless most governors would find life a bit simpler with an AG of the same party and even easier if she could appoint her own AG–as she does in many states.

(The present AG, Carl Danberg, was appointed by Governor Ruth Ann Minner to serve out the term of AG Jane Brady when she appointed Brady a judge.  Some have suggested that Minner chose Danberg because he was involved–as a lawyer–in the horrible scandals in the Department of Corrections and would avoid investigating them.)

Whose interests will the AG serve?

In Delaware the AG is an independent official with a great deal of discretion. He or she can, for example, decide to prosecute or not prosecute a criminal case–prosecution is discretionary.  

o         Thus, if Delaware prosecutes people for celebrating “Buy Noting Day” at Christiana Mall (disclosure:  This writer–Muller–is one of those being prosecuted) that is not inevitable but a policy decision by the AG.  Seehttp://www.buynothing.biz/.

o         If Delaware prosecutes people for protesting the Iraq war in front of Congressman Mike Castle’s office, that is not inevitable but a policy decision by the AG.  (We asked Castle about this–his response was on the order of “I don’t get involved in police matters.”)

o         If Delaware DOES NOT prosecute the managers and owners of the Delaware City Refinery for killing workers through gross negligence, that also is a policy decision.

o         If Delaware DOES NOT join in “multi state” suits against Federal government environmental rollbacks, or tobacco industry misconduct, that also is a policy decision.

o         If Delaware doesn’t enforce environmental laws, but rather “settles,” and accepts bribes from polluters, this is, at least in part, a policy decision of the AG.  (We say “in part” because DNREC is also a “client” of the AG, and has a role in such decisions).

Fear mongering rather than informing

Why, then, has the public face of the campaign been little more than name calling, fear mongering, and lies?

Could it be that neither candidate wants the public to think about the real issues–whether the AG is to serve Delaware’s (human) citizens or protect special interests?

The campaign has focused on the question, essentially, of who could put more people in jail faster.  It feels like a “Willie Horton” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton) campaign based on raising public fear of rapists, murderers, and child molesters.

But how much sense does this make?  

The US has the worlds highest incarceration rates and Delaware is among the highest in the US.

Here are some rates of imprisonment (persons locked up per 100,000 residents):

Japan                         53
Sweden                      73
Australia                  112
Canada                     116
England/Wales        139
South Africa             400
Russia                      628
United States           702
Delaware                  811

data from www.sentencingproject.org/pdfs/pub9036.pdf, (2003)

But it gets worse because:

In Delaware, Blacks represent:

o         20% of the general population;
o         42% of those arrested for criminal offenses;
o         64% of the prison population; and
o         86.8% of those incarcerated for drug offenses.

(Race and Incarceration in Delaware: A Preliminary Consideration
by Thomas P. Eichler, 2005, http://www.njisj.org/pubdocs/red_072805_delaware_report.pdf)

In 2005 The Black Commentator rated Delaware one of the “ten worst places in the US to be Black,” based mainly on the fact that in Delaware Blacks are imprisoned 6.56 more often than whites. (http://www.blackcommentator.com/146/146_cover_dixon_ten_worst.html ).

But what should an campaign for Attorney General be about?

What about white collar crime, corporate misconduct (Delaware charters a great many corporations but accepts no responsibility for regulating their conduct….), consumer fraud, environmental enforcement (Delaware is one of the more polluted and unhealthy places around), labor and employment rights, civil rights …..

Take a look, for example, at the web site of the famous Attorney General of New York State, Eliot Spitzer: http://www.oag.state.ny.us/

A nice clue to understanding the campaign:

WDEL radio (1150 AM) has extensively repeated a quote from Richard Heffron, lobbyist for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce:

“This is a good campaign … the right issues are being debated … this is the sort of campaign we need …”

How could anyone say this?  Well, if you are Heffron and your job is to serve big business, maybe it makes perfect sense:  The last thing the Chamber of Commerce would want is people thinking about pollution, corporate crime, civil rights….. lets use election campaigns to keep the people distracted with fear and lies.

After all, as top Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering pointed out:

“But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship … voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”  (Nuremberg, April 18, 1946)

But why would WDEL put this stuff out without some balance?  That might be a good question to ask WDEL.

From an October 31, 2006 Biden campaign press release:

tWilmington, DE ­ At a press conference today, Democratic Candidate for Attorney General Beau Biden unveiled a plan to throw the weight of the Attorney General’s Office behind environmental protection.

“My top priority will always be putting murderers, rapists and child molesters behind bars, but our Chief Law Enforcement Officer has to get serious about stopping those who pollute our air, water and oceans.  Also, Biden said “Delaware’s Attorney General must take the lead to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, and that’s precisely what I will do.”

Biden vowed that, as Attorney General, one of his first moves will be to fill the vacant position in the Environmental Unit with someone whose sole focus is environmental prosecution.  

He also intends to appoint a Director of Environmental Compliance within the Attorney General’s Office who will work with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”) to develop and implement an environmental compliance policy in the Department of Justice.

He also stressed the importance of improving cooperation and coordination with DNREC, to ensure that both agencies are working in tandem toward the same goal, and joining with other states to ensure federal environmental laws are not weakened.  A Biden Administration would coordinate and, when necessary, lead multi-state efforts to address regional pollution.

Biden was joined at the press conference by former-Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, W. Michael McCabe, who said, “It’s about time the full authority of the Attorney General’s Office was used to protect human health and the environment.  Through his leadership and vision, Beau Biden will bring a new commitmento safeguarding the health of Delawareans today and into tomorrow.  Biden promises to renew strong ties with DNREC to build a powerful partnership aimed at enforcing those laws that protect our quality of life.  Biden is looking to the future – the future of our communities and the health of our families.”Biden was also joined by former Republican Governor Russell W. Peterson, who supports Beau’s bold initiative “to better protect our State’s environment.”

Does this mean Biden is actually more interested in environmental enforcement than Wharton?   We don’t know.  Repeated calls went unanswered.  But Biden was heard on WDEL saying “DuPont has been an outstanding corporate citizen for many decades.”

Biden’s website doesn’t mention environment.  

“Beau’s Plan

Child Predators on the Internet.
Domestic Violence.
Violent Crime.
Senior Abuse.
Identity Theft.”

We weren’t immediately able to reach the Wharton campaign either.

Oath of office?

 

ARTICLE XIV.[Constitution of Delaware]OATH OF OFFICE

[…]
“I, ____(name),______________.do proudly swear ( or affirm) to carry out the responsibilities of the office of __(name of office)_____________ to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear (or affirm) always to place the public interest above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”

Comment from Green Delaware

Whoever is AG of Delaware, violent criminals will be prosecuted.  This is hardly a question.  The real question is:  Will the Attorney General of Delaware be on the side of justice of Delawareans, or the servant of the global interests Delaware pols have sold “our” state to.

Based on the campaign, we can only suppose that both candidates would serve special interests and neither are suited to be Attorney General.  Since one of them WILL be elected, we can only hope to be wrong.

For more information see Chris Barrish’ informative story in The News Journal athttp://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061105/NEWS/611050368/-1/ELECTION [Note:  link dead]

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