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©_2002_Authorized and_paid_for_by_the Committee_to_Elect Vivian_Houghton Attorney_General, 800_N_West_St., Wilmington_DE_19801



Speech given after Ralph Nader’s endorsement, October 5, 2002
by Vivian Houghton

Good evening, friends.

Before saying anything else, let me first say the obvious: I cherish Ralph Nader’s endorsement.  I cherish it because of what he stands for as an activist.  Not only is he a militant consumer advocate whose  concern for people has led him to risk his reputation as he battles against our nation’s corporate crimes, but Ralph Nader is also a man who speaks across generations, mobilizing the young as well as the old against injustice in general. 

The proof of Nader’s multi-generational appeal was evidenced in his presidential bid in 2000.  It is also evidenced, maybe even more importantly, in the role he currently plays in the anti-globalization movement, a movement in which he stands side by side with many of America’s youth in denouncing (1) corporate sweatshops in the third world and (2) the havoc that institutions like the World Bank’s and IMF’s predatory lending practices wreak on developing countries.  Because of these lending practices, the world’s most economically hard-hit populations – Chile’s copper miners, South Korea’s squatters, Africa’s destitute, and many of our other sisters and brothers across the planet  – are pushed deeper and deeper into misery and suffering while the wealth of multinational corporations mounts almost beyond our capacity to imagine it.  

That Ralph Nader speaks out against such crimes makes him our brother in the battle for justice.  As a result, the same thing can be said about him that one of  our nation’s ancestors, little five-foot Mary Harris Jones who was a union organizer, once said about herself.  She said,  “My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide wherever there is a fight against wrong.”  

Like Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones, Ralph Nader’s home address is wherever a fight for fairness is going on.  Therefore, I am proud to have received his endorsement.  I am proud to have received it because heaven knows we are fighting injustice right here in Delaware.  And because of this fight, my campaign – and all the grassroots people and organizations who are the true backbone of this campaign – is a campaign not only about winning the attorney general’s race, which we will do, but it is also about laying the basis for an ongoing, independent-minded local movement of people who want to challenge the local power structure on a variety of issues including racial inequity, social justice, environmental problems, worker rights, corporate crime and so on.  I don’t stand here tonight as a fragile spirit who plans to disappear into the attorney general’s office or into inactivity on Nov. 6, the day after the election.  On the contrary, I stand here as the representative of tens of thousands of Delawareans who understand that winning an election is only one small part of what we must do.  We also have to go out into the streets in between elections, year after year, mobilizing ourselves and pounding at the doors of the powerful in order to change what must be changed.  The Republican and Democratic Party leaderships certainly won’t do this for us, given how estranged they are from the people they supposedly represent.  As proof of this estrangement, look at the Republican and Democratic primaries that were held in our state a month ago on Sept. 7.   The 10% turnout for those primaries was an embarrassing example of the two parties’ ineptitude and unpopularity.  

That’s why we’re here – because of the two parties’ failures.  That’s why this campaign is here.  That’s why so many people are collectively putting their shoulders to the grindstone in order to build a movement, and to elect an attorney general, that will take “we the people” seriously.  Justice shouldn’t be a commodity bought by the wealthy in a sheik boutique.  Justice is supposed to be for everyone, regardless of how much money you have in the bank or the color of your skin.  

Since one of the main jobs of the attorney general position that I am running for is the prosecution of criminals, let’s take a few minutes to look at prosecution and incarceration trends in Delaware.  

  1. 1.  The first example I want to talk about is the issue of racial equity in Delaware’s criminal justice system.  

    According to numbers compiled by the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Census, for every white person who is imprisoned  in Delaware, 9.4 blacks are imprisoned in spite of the fact that blacks make up only 19.2% of the population.  Just as disturbing is the fact that in Delaware, a state in which the total person of color population is approximately 25 percent of the total population, over half of those on death row are non-white.  To say the least, this is a troubling  disproportion.  

    These facts reflect national trends.  For instance, as a majority of Americans now recognize, the death penalty debate in our country  is often a coded dialogue about race and economic status..  As all the data show, if you’re a person of color or poor you’re far more likely to be executed for a capital crime than is a wealthy Caucasian.  Additionally, who you kill plays a significant role in determining what punishment you receive.  For instance, from 1977-1998, of the 500 prisoners who were put to death in America, 81.80 percent were convicted of the murder of a white person.  This was in spite of the fact that about 50 percent of the nation’s murder victims during that period were African American.  The message of these numbers is clear: the U.S. judicial system doesn’t consider killing a U.S. black as “bad” a crime as killing a white.  

    In spite of facts and figures like these, neither Mr. Schnee nor Ms. Brady, my opponents in the attorney general’s race, have displayed the courage or principle to speak out aggressively on this issue.  And yet the problem of racial equity within the justice system is pivotal to the very meaning of democracy.  If the law isn’t applied equally to all people regardless of race, the law becomes a fiction as opposed to a reality and what we are left with is not actual equality but only the hallucination of equality, as if we are all trapped together in an asylum in which the real and unreal are mixed together in a permanent state of racist disorientation. 

    This is why one of my priorities as soon as I take office will be to establish a task force for aggressively attacking racial inequity within the state criminal justice system.  The task force’s mandate will be not only to come up with solutions to the problems already mentioned, but also to develop ideas for rectifying  racial imbalances within police departments, both in terms of who works there and who receives promotions there, as well as for correcting similar imbalances within the attorney general’s office itself.  

    Historically, racially imbalanced justice systems have NOT produced the level of racial justice we need to be truly democratic in the state or nation.  

  2. The second topic I want to talk about with reference to the attorney general’s race is the issue of the lack of prosecution of corporate crime.  

    I want to begin my comments on corporate crime by talking about the Delaware connection to a scandal with which you’re all familiar: the Enron fiasco.  Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other media outlets reported that Enron’s rise to power was helped along by a group of Delaware laws that amounted to a corporate welfare system.  

    As the Inquirer stated, these laws allowed Enron to “shroud high‑stakes deals from investor scrutiny” by setting up 685 Enron subsidiaries  in Delaware.  That’s right, 685 subsidiaries!  By doing this, Enron hid its true financial status from its investors – including thousands of its employees who were encouraged to invest in Enron stock for their retirement –  even while the company was collapsing.  It is precisely this kind of a survival-of-the-fittest economic climate that makes Delaware so attractive to large corporations.  It is why our state is called the U.S.’s “corporate capital.”  

    Given Delaware’s pro-corporate legal landscape, it is no wonder that the state’s industrial contaminators get away with so much.  Look at the facts.  We live in a state in which
    one of our counties – New Castle County – ranks among the top 5% of U.S. counties that emit toxic substances like mercury, benzene and arsenic compounds.  On top of this, 236 of the state’s animal species are on the endangered list because of environmental damage.  Also, a higher percentage of Delaware’s native plant species have been killed off by development and lack of industrial oversight than in any other state in the nation.  As if all this wasn’t bad enough, our cancer rate is the fourth highest in the nation and in Claymont, long known for its industrial pollution problems because of Sunoco and General Chemical, the rate of respiratory ailments among children is the highest of anywhere in the nation.  It seems not to matter to those who run these chemical companies that if you destroy a people’s land and air and waterways, you run the risk of destroying  people’s bodies too.  

    In spite of all this pollution, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control – better known as DNREC – has done criminally little to take Delaware’s industrial polluters to task for breaking state environment-protection and health laws.  Usually as a penalty a guilty company receives no more than a slap-on-the-wrist fine which it is more than able to pay – and so for all practical purposes, no real penalty has been given. 

    As attorney general I will step in and end such softness on these crimes.  To accomplish this, my first move will be to investigate possible criminal behavior on the part of DNREC for  its failure to adequately oversee polluters while persisting in close ties with the very industry it is mandated to regulate.  

    My second move will be to re-orient the attorney general’s office so that it is willing to take the type of aggressive action that was taken in Texas when the Justice Department charged and convicted 2 managers of a chemical plant under the Clean Air Act.  The 2 managers were sentenced to 36 months in prison.  This is the kind of thing I will do when necessary.  Under my leadership, the attorney general’s office will not sell justice to the highest bidder.  The law will be applied to the rich as well as to the poor.  

    And this is exactly the way things should be.  After all, corporate criminals who commit their crimes from a distance – while sitting in their luxurious offices or boardrooms - shouldn’t be viewed as somehow less responsible for their crimes than other people.  In fact, we could make the point – and I think we should make it – that those who endanger our health and lives by making corporate decisions that contaminate our land, air and waterways are involved in a higher level of violent crime than is the average street criminal.  As I stated earlier, Delaware has the fourth highest cancer rate in the country.  If even only a fraction of our state’s cancer deaths are caused by industrial pollution, that means that the CEOs and managers of the responsible plants have participated in a collective serial killing of far greater magnitude than any violent crime perpetuated by any other individual criminal the state has ever known.  Why should such criminals be left free to wine and dine each other in the Hotel DuPont’s Green Room while many nonviolent drug addicts are warehoused in jail rather than receiving the medical rehabilitation they need.  

  3. The third issue I want to talk about with reference to the attorney general’s race is  health care. 

    ow of course, strictly speaking, health care isn’t under the jurisdiction of the attorney general’s office.  At least this is what Ms. Brady and Mr. Schnee would like you to believe so that they can have an excuse for not talking about health care.  The reason they don’t want to talk about this issue is because both their parties have close financial ties to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and these financial ties compromise their ability to monitor the health care delivery industry vigorously.  As people say among their friends about Republicans and Democrats, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” 

    Neither I as a candidate, nor the coalition of people and organizations that stand behind my candidacy, have this problem.  We are independent, we do not take money from corporations, we are fierce in our determination to apply the law equitably, and we are committed to a vision of justice that includes the right of people to adequate health care.  Therefore, as Delaware’s Attorney General, I will take my marching orders regarding health care rights from no one except “we the people.”  This means I will investigate insurance companies’ behavior and I will prosecute any company or group of companies that illegally deny customers health care procedures, medications or office visits that the customers’ health warrants.  Also, in my capacity as attorney general, I will use my position to advocate the passage of Delaware’s House Bill 552, The Delaware Health Security Act, which would create a single-payer style health care system, which is something our state desperately needs.  

    And desperately is the right word to use here.  There are 100,000 Delawareans who have no health care insurance and another 100,000 who have sub-standard health care. Additionally, Delaware is 44th among the states in the percentage of low-income children without health insurance.  What makes this even more depressing than it already is, is that Delaware’s below-average health care system exists in the midst of a wealthy state that is known nationally as the nation’s “corporate capital.”  Additionally, Delaware’s infant mortality rate is the seventh-highest in the country, with the rate among blacks more than twice as high as among whites.  In fact, The mortality rate for Delaware’s African-American newborns is so bad that there are 46 nations in the world that have lower infant mortality rates than black Delawareans.  Babies born in poor countries like Bosnia, Croatia, Cuba, Chile, Estonia, Malaysia, Lithuania and Jamaica have a better chance of reaching their first birthday than does a black infant in Delaware. While insurance companies deny care to the needy, this is what happens in our state.  

    With Delaware suffering from realities like these, you can take this to the bank: as attorney general I will prosecute any health care delivery company that violates any aspect of the law in terms of providing care.  No HMO or pharmaceutical company will stand in the way of justice when I run the attorney general’s office.  

In conclusion, let me say this.  

As you know, we are running a grassroots campaign that has been kicking butt and stunning  Delaware’s political status quo.  And I say “we” on purpose.  This campaign isn’t just about me; it’s about winning office, yes, but it’s also about lots of people working together to build a grassroots mass movement for justice.   

So, the truth is that this campaign is not just my campaign, it is our campaign.  It is not just a politics-as-usual campaign, it is an insurgent politics-of-the-people campaign.  Those of us who are here today are bound together by our independent spirits, our vision of a more equal justice system, our refusal to be taken for granted  by the powers that be, and our willingness to put our shoulders to the grindstone and fight for a new, more open politics here in our home state.  

Like many of you, my inspiration for doing such work does not come just from the electoral process.  In fact, much of what inspires me comes from outside the electoral process– although I am putting it to work within the electoral process now  The spirit that drives me – as it drives most of you – is the raw spirit of democracy.  This is the spirit that fueled the earliest struggles against racism, that inspired the 1930s unionization drives, that motivates the gay and lesbian struggles for justice, that brought the environmental movement into being, and that has propelled most of what is best in U.S. history.     

This energy is what we have introduced into this election.  And this is why we are going to win! 

Thank you!


The Committee to Elect Vivian Houghton Attorney General

The Green Party of Delaware