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Sen. Carper announces plans to retire

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s senior U.S. Senator says he will not run again.

Tom Carper announced Monday morning at the Wilmington Riverfront he plans to retire when his current term ends.

The 76-year-old says he is in good health, and is simply ready to turn the page after more than four decades in public office.

Carper notes every statewide office in Delaware is now held by a Democrat, along with supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

So he feels comfortable leaving the political stage.

"While nothing is forever the Delaware Democratic Party is blessed today with a bench as strong as any I’ve ever seen in the 50 years that I’ve called Delaware home," said Carper. "If there was ever an opportune time to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation, it’s coming, and it will be here on January 3, 2025, right around noon."

Carper will leave the Senate after 4 terms and 24 years – creating an open race fort that seat in 2024 that could have ripple effects elsewhere on the ballot.

Carper has been a fixture on the Delaware political scene since the late 1970s. He first served 3 terms as State Treasurer before heading to Washington D.C. for 5 terms as Delaware’s lone U.S. House member.

He returned to state government after winning the Governor’s office in 1992 and served 2 terms before heading back to Capitol Hill when he defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Bill Roth in a 2000 Senate race.

Carper was last reelected to the Senate in 2018, easily defeating Republican Rob Arlett after facing a Democratic primary from Kerri Evelyn Harris.

Delaware's junior Senator, Chris Coons, says Carper is more than a colleague and a friend, calling him a "steady, significant leader who has shaped Delaware over decades."

Coons notes they have worked together on various projects, including replenishing Delaware’s beaches, and he hopes they can see other projects through before Carper’s term ends.

“The responsibility I feel I have today is to work closely with my friend and colleague, Chairman Carper of the EPW Committee, for the rest of this Congress, to honor his service and his legacy in the Senate and his 50 years of service to our nation, and to do my best going forward to pick up the projects that he and I have long done together,” said Coons.

Coons says that includes advocating for good jobs, a cleaner environment, and a stronger economy for all Delawareans.

Coons also points out another area where Carper's influence has been strong.

“He is the last of the generation of Vietnam veterans to serve in the U.S. Senate, and as a veteran, he has focused a lot of his time and energy on ensuring that the VA hospital here in Delaware and the whole scope of veteran health services here in Delaware are as good as our veterans deserve. That’s been a passion project of Senator Carper’s for many years, and he has made a lasting impact in that," said Coons.

Delaware Public Media's Rachel Sawicki reports on reaction to Sen. Tom Carper's retirement announcement

Gov. John Carey called Carper “one-of-a-kind."

“Senator Carper is an institution in our state and a servant leader who has always put the interests of Delaware families first,” Carney said in a statement. “He has been a tireless advocate for Delaware. And in a time of increasing divisiveness, Senator Carper continues to work across the aisle to find common ground and get things done.”

Lt. Gov. Bethany hall-Long echoed that praise, noting there is not a corner in Delaware that has not been shaped by Carper.

“Beloved for his unique wit, his unparalleled work ethic, and his unofficial record of shaking more hands than any other Delaware elected official, Senator Carper is a servant leader to his core,” Hall-Long said in a statement.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester is expect to run for Carper's open seat. She called it "impossible to even partially capture" Carper's accomplishments.

"No one put more miles in than Tom Carper. No one worked harder for Delaware than Tom Carper," said Blunt Rochester in a statement. “To me, this is Tom Carper’s legacy. That he deeply loved our state of neighbors. That he worked tirelessly every single day to make it a better place. And that in his endeavor, he succeeded."

Carper said Monday he had spoken to Blunt Rochester about his decision and her future.

"I said ‘You’ve been patient, waiting for me to get out of the way, and I’m going to get out of the way. And I hope you run, and I hope you’ll let me support you in that mission.’”

Delaware Democratic Party chair Betsy Maron thanked Carper for his service to Delaware and to the Democratic party in a statement, calling his influence "unrivaled." She also said Democrats also plan to keep the seat.

“In 2024 we plan to continue Tom Carper’s legacy of Democratic leadership by maintaining this Senate seat," said Maron's statement. "With a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate, it is of the utmost importance that Democrats not cede any ground to Republicans in 2024. As a state party, we plan to do our part to ensure President Biden has allies he can rely upon in the Senate.” 

Delaware Republican Party chair Julianne Murray saluted Carper for his public service even if they often disagreed on priorities, but adds the GOP intends to fight to take the open Senate seat.

The Democrat Party has changed since Tom was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. It is not the party it was when he started his career. Tom stood for small government, worked across the aisle with Republicans in the U.S. House and the Delaware General Assembly, and
occasionally voted independently of the party. That has changed too," said Murray in a statement. "Today, the Democrat Party and Washington D.C. are very different.
We have been preparing to give the Delaware voters a choice between the New Democrat Party and a very different alternative when we elect Tom Carper’s successor.”

But before Carper's successor is determined, he plans to finish the work he’s begun this term during his final 20 months in office.

“As long as I’m there I’m going to do my best to get things done, create a nurturing environment, and an environment where people think of bipartisan solutions as lasting solutions,” said Carper.

Topping his to-do list is overseeing implementation of climate provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, as well as the clean energy tax provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act.

The issues he’d like to focus on most aggressively fall into 5 categories.

The first is clean energy, global warming, economic growth and the environment. Carper hopes to set a tone for increasing economic growth while not sacrificing the country’s climate goals. His next action is to seek bipartisan legislation to create clean energy jobs that adhere to the environmental laws in place and maintain protections for environmental justice communities.

The second is tax and trade. This includes ensuring all Americans are paying their fair share of taxes, and expanding U.S. economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific. That expansion also includes advocating for stronger environmental standards in future trade agreements that go along with his vision for a clean energy economy.

The third is healthcare, with focuses in school-based healthcare and prescription drug costs.

Carper wants to ensure that the federal funding for school-based child mental health services is delivered as promised, and grow support for Hospital at Home programs.

He hopes to develop legislation to address rising prescription drug costs by understanding the role Pharmacy Benefit Managers play in that issue.

His fourth focus is the workforce. This includes introducing legislation regarding career scholarships, and addressing current hiring challenges faced by employers.

Carper’s final focus is Delaware specific initiatives, which he says is expansive. Some of the key projects will be launching the Port of Wilmington expansion, and supporting funding for coastal protection and the state’s wildlife refuges.

Carper kickstarted his expansive political career in the First State serving as State Treasurer at a time when Delaware had the worst credit rating in the country.

Current State Treasurer Colleen Davis says Carper’s legacy of stabilizing the state’s economy helped her navigate many of the issues she faced seeing the Delaware through during the pandemic.

Davis says his plans for the next 20 months are both ambitious and necessary.

“Healthcare is a huge concern for so many folks. We see ballooning costs, and we don't see the same types of quality measures that are returned with that investment. There’s a lot of work to be done there,” said Davis. “He really addressed the fact that they’re looking for ways to implement medical home programs and supporting children in the school system, which is how I think we’re going to get to phase 2, beyond the pandemic. Looking at how we provide healthcare in meaningful ways. And these are both phenomenal, impactful ways to do it.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and a graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021
Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.