What there is to know
- Ruth Ann Minner, the daughter of a sharecropper who became the only female governor of Delaware, has died. She was 86 years old.
- Minner, who served as governor from 2001 to 2009, died Thursday morning, according to Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse, a friend who once served as his chief of staff.
- A high school dropout who was twice widowed, Minner got her first taste of politics as a legislative bill clerk and rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party to become the state’s most powerful politician.
Ruth Ann Minner, the daughter of a sharecropper who became the only female governor of Delaware, has died. She was 86 years old.
Minner, who served as governor from 2001 to 2009, died Thursday morning, according to Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse, a friend who once served as his chief of staff.
âShe was a real leader, a great role model for women and those who haven’t had it that easy, to show that if you work hard, be honest, you can reach the top,â said Scuse.
A high school dropout who was twice widowed, Minner got her first glimpse into politics as a legislative bill clerk and rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party to become the state’s most powerful politician.
As governor-elect in 2000, Minner did not dwell on breaking the gender barrier, but instead noted that she was the first governor in nearly 50 years to be elected in the lower state of Delaware.
âYou know, I don’t think it really matters to me that I’m a woman,â she told The Associated Press at the time. âI have found since the election, however, that it matters to a lot of women. This matters to many young girls.
Her humble beginnings and matronly appearance led a political columnist to nickname Minner the âAunt Beaâ of the state government, a reference to the family matriarch on the âAndy Griffithâ TV show.
âShe was a leader who had a real touch in common,â said Governor John Carney, who served as Minner’s lieutenant governor.
But Minner’s appearance belied her reputation as a hard-line politician who didn’t shy away from fighting Republican lawmakers or other opponents.
âAfter the death of my first husband, I became a very independent woman,â she explained after the 2000 election. It was decades after she ran for a State House seat in the 1970s with the intention of changing a banking law that required her husband to co-sign any loan application.
Amid the cries of âBan Ruth Ann! Of outraged business owners and libertarians, in 2002 Minner signed one of the country’s toughest bans on smoking in public places.
Another landmark legislation included a 2007 measure sparked by the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The bill abolished Delaware’s two-year deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits and established a two-year period during which lawsuits previously barred by the passage of time could be re-filed. The bill has resulted in more than 100 lawsuits, prompting the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington to seek bankruptcy protection and settle with victims of priestly sexual abuse for $ 77 million.
Minner was also instrumental in setting up a state scholarship program that provided free tuition fees to over 13,000 Delawaren.
A tax conservative who espoused liberal social views, Minner has spent much of her time leading Delaware through tough budget cycles. Days after becoming governor, she ordered state agencies to cut spending proposals. She then ordered a hiring freeze and more than $ 350 million in budget cuts, then persuaded lawmakers to approve $ 300 million in spending cuts and increases in taxes and fees.
Minner sometimes struggled to persuade Republicans who controlled State House to follow his lead. She also found herself at times at odds with conservative Democrats who controlled the state Senate and resisted her efforts to strengthen drunk driving laws and outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Minner’s much-vaunted anti-sprawl program, dubbed “Deliverable Delaware,” has achieved limited results, and his administration has been plagued by scandals and lawsuits involving the state police, the prison system and public psychiatric hospital. She was barely re-elected in 2004 after a prison counselor was taken hostage and sexually assaulted by a convicted serial rapist before being shot dead by a guard. Speaking to a reporter shortly after the incident, Minner suggested that such things are almost expected in prisons.
In 2012, businessman Christopher Tigani, a friend and supporter of Minner, was sentenced to jail after pleading guilty to federal charges of making illegal campaign contributions to candidates across state and federal government. As governor, Minner helped Tigani secure a cheap long-term lease of state-owned land in Milford for his family’s liquor distribution.
Minner was born Ruth Ann Coverdale in Milford in 1935. She left school at 16 to work on the family farm and married Frank Ingram a year later. Ingram died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in 1967, leaving his 32-year-old widow to raise three boys while running the family asphalt paving business.
Confronted with being the sole breadwinner of her sons, Minner earned a general equivalency degree and briefly studied elementary education at a community college.
In 1974, Minner successfully ran for a seat in the State House, having first tasted politics as a Clerk of Bills to the General Assembly and then as a receptionist for the Governor. Sherman Tribbit. She served in the House until 1982, when she was elected to the State Senate, where she served for 10 years. Minner’s flagship achievement as a legislator was the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Act, which has led to the preservation of over 30,000 acres of open space.
In 1991, Minner’s second husband, Roger Minner, died of cancer, leaving her again a widow. In 1992, she became the state’s first female lieutenant governor, serving two four-year terms before succeeding Tom Carper, now Senior U.S. Senator from Delaware, as governor.