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William C. Boyer (left) and Edward C. Ratledge have written a book
titled "Pivotal Policies in Delaware: From Desegregation to
9:25 a.m., Feb. 17, 2014--In their latest book, two University of
Delaware authors report that the major drivers of public policy in the
First State today are the federal and state judiciary, the governor and
Previously, the state legislature had been the dominant force and its
unquestioned power in making public policy lasted well into the second
half of the last century.
How this came to pass is the subject of Pivotal Policies in Delaware: From Desegregation to Deregulation,
by William W. Boyer, Charles Polk Messick Professor Emeritus of
Political Science and International Relations, and Edward C. Ratledge,
director of the Center for Applied Demography and Survey.
Published by the University of Delaware Press, the book looks at a
series of pivotal policy events in modern Delaware, beginning with the
1954 U.S. Supreme Courts Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, which
the authors note would eventually prohibit official racial segregation
throughout the public schools of the United States.
During an interview with the authors, Boyer noted that although
Delaware was a slave state, the majority of Delaware blacks were free by
the end of the 18th century. According to local historian William H.
Williams, Delaware, prior to the Civil War, became the least hospitable
place in the Union for free blacks, due to an intense racism that
endured through the mid-20th century, Boyer said.
The states legacy of deep racial division, coupled with its failure
to establish public schools of any kind until 1829, with none for
African Americans until 1870, led to blacks not having equal access to
public education until Delaware was forced to desegregate its public
schools as demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.
Pioneering civil rights attorney Louis L. Redding, who had
successfully fought to have the University of Delaware open its doors to
black students in 1950, filed two suits in Chancery Court challenging
segregation in New Castle County public schools. The court combined the
suits in Belton v. Gebhart in 1952, which became an integral part of the Brown v. Board Education case presented before the Supreme Court by the NAACPs chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall.
Despite the historic decision, it took decades for Delaware to
desegregate its public schools to the satisfaction of the federal
judiciary, with the most fierce and prolonged resistance occurring in
New Castle County, Ratledge said.
It was not until the late 1970s that Delaware officials become
serious about desegregating the states public schools, Ratledge said.
It took 40 years before a federal district court would say that the
state was in compliance to school desegregation as mandated by the
Ratledge also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court also was involved in
significantly shifting political power in the Delaware General Assembly
away from the states two lower counties as a result of the one
person, one vote ruling in the 1964 Alabama v. Sims decision.
The ruling ended the overrepresentation of rural counties in several
states, including Delaware, and as a result, New Castle County, the
states most populous county, became the controlling force in the state
legislature, Ratledge said. Today, with the population shifting
downstate, the power in the legislature also will be shifting south, and
this will be an important thing to watch.
Business first and activist governors
The evolving public policy scene in Delaware also was marked by was
the advent of the activist governor, which the authors believe started
with the election of Russell W. Peterson in 1968. The power of the
governor was most fully realized during the administration of former
Gov. Pierre S. du Pont IV, the states top executive from mid-1977
through mid-January, 1985, Boyer noted.
Gov. Peterson started a lot of new things, including introducing the
cabinet system of government and the passing of the Costal Zoning Act,
Boyer said. Gov. du Pont restored the pro-business climate in the
state with the passage of the Financial Center Development Act of 1981,
which brought many out-of-state credit card banks to Delaware.
Key public policy decisions also included the nine-month deployment
of the Delaware National Guard in Wilmington following the assassination
of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, the deregulation
of utilities, confronting Delawares high cancer rate and a hard-nosed
approach to crime and punishment.
In the late 1970s, the community-based corrections program advocated
by Gov. du Pont began to be eased out by a rigid criminal code that
emphasized minimum mandatory sentencing and incarceration. By the early
1990s, Delaware led all states in the rate of incarceration.
The community-based corrections systems says prison administration
should be geared toward rehabilitation, and this became more and more
ignored, Boyer said. Delaware took a more punitive approach. We are
not as good at rehabilitating people as we are at incarcerating them.
One of the results of this approach is that mandatory sentencing put a
lot of people in jail that probably didnt belong there, which resulted
in overcrowding in the states prison system, Ratledge said.
The pendulum of public opinion is swinging the other way now, away
from mandatory sentencing, Ratledge said. Its not completely done,
but with the effect of the recession, the state and federal government
has less and less money to spend on prisons.
The authors noted that, as with all public policy decisions, the
outcomes are not always what the supporters of such policies had
There have been good things, like the ban on indoor smoking and the
seat belt laws, which made good sense and have had immediate benefits,
Boyer said. There also are many difficult issues generating a lot of
conflict between polarizing groups with nobody wanting to give in. What
is needed are policies that are sustainable in the long run.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Originally published by UDaily
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