Born in Newark, Delaware, Markell is a graduate of Brown University and the University of Chicago. Markell entered a career in business, working as a banker, consultant and senior manager for First Chicago Corporation, McKinsey & Company and Comcast Corporation. He also worked for Nextel Communications - a name that Markell coined - as the Senior Vice President for Corporate Development from 1989 to 1995.
Entering a career in politics, Markell served three terms as the State Treasurer of Delaware from 1999 to 2009. After term-limited Governor Ruth Ann Minner was prevented from running for reelection, Markell announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. Markell defeated Lieutenant Governor of Delaware John Carney with 51% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and defeated Republican nominee, former Delaware Superior Court Judge William Swain Lee, with 67% of the vote in the general election; becoming Delaware's first Jewish governor. Markell was then elected to a second term, defeating Republican businessman Jeff Cragg in 2012, winning by a margin of over 40%, the largest margin in any race for governor in Delaware's history.
As governor, Markell served as the chairperson to both the Democratic Governors Association, from 2010 to 2011, and the National Governors Association, from 2012 to 2013. His national profile as chair of both the DGA and the NGA, along with his landslide re-election and speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, led to speculation that he would seek the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 2016, though he ultimately declined to run.
Markell was born and raised in Newark, Delaware, the son of Elaine "Leni", a social worker, and William Markell, who taught accounting at the University of Delaware. He graduated from Newark High School. As a child, he attended Camp Galil, a summer camp in the Labor Zionist youth movement, Habonim Dror. He graduated from Brown University earning his Bachelor of Arts in economics and development studies, and went on to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Markell began his business career in 1982, working as a banker at First Chicago Corporation. He then became a consultant at McKinsey & Company in 1986. Markell joined Fleet Call - later known as Nextel Communications (a name that Markell coined) - where he served as the Senior Vice President for Corporate Development from 1989 to 1995. Becoming the company's 13th employee, Markell joined Nextel when the company was in a nascent stage; helping lead Nextel to nationwide success during the wireless telecommunications revolution of the 1990s. After leaving Nextel, Markell worked as a senior manager at Comcast Corporation from 1996 to 1998.
Markell is married to Carla Smathers, with whom he has two children.
Markell was first elected State Treasurer of Delaware in 1998, unseating four-term Republican incumbent Janet C. Rzewnicki, and was re-elected in 2002 and 2006.
As treasurer, Markell led the development of several educational efforts in personal financial management, known collectively as "the Financial Literacy initiatives". He created the "Delaware Money School", which offers free classes to Delaware residents on topics such as saving for college and retirement planning. He also started the "Delaware Bank at School Program" which takes banks and financial education to schools. He partnered with the University of Delaware, Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, as well as several Delaware banks, to teach young people the basics of money and savings.
In 2001, Governor Ruth Ann Minner chose Markell to chair the Information Services Task Force, which developed and implemented recommendations to modify the state's management of information technology. In 2002, he led an effort to streamline and coordinate the procurement of goods and services while using state-of-the-art purchasing techniques. He also led the "Health Rewards" initiative, which offers Delaware state government employees comprehensive physical assessments, detailed statistics about how their health compares with their peers across the country, and recommendations about how they can improve their health.
On June 6, 2007, Markell officially launched his candidacy for Governor of Delaware, setting up a primary with Lieutenant Governor John Carney. Beginning in the summer of 2007, Markell released fourteen policy papers on issues ranging from energy to health care to education. Early, Markell was far behind in polls and endorsements; the Young Democrats Movement and other organizations allowed Markell to gain early momentum, but these efforts were offset by the endorsement of Carney by the Delaware Democratic Party. Markell closed the polls slowly until election day when Carney still held a small lead.
Markell won an upset victory over Carney, with 51.2% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Markell faced 2004 Republican Nominee for Governor and former Judge, William Swain Lee. Markell won the election with 67% of the vote.
The 2012 Delaware gubernatorial election took place on November 6, 2012 Incumbent Democratic Governor Jack Markell won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican challenger Jeff Cragg by nearly 40 points.Budget
According to The News Journal, the inauguration ceremony was held in the middle of the night to comply with the requirements of the state constitution that the Governor be inaugurated on the third Tuesday of January and to allow Delaware residents to enjoy the historic event that would occur later that day: the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and his vice president, Delaware’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr. A traditional swearing-in ceremony was held the following day on Legislative Mall in Dover, Delaware.
Markell entered office with an unprecedented budget challenge, facing a deficit of almost $800,000,000. One of his first actions was to cut his own salary by 20%. Markell announced his plan to balance the budget in March 2009. Avoiding lay-offs, Markell's plan included an 8% pay cut for state employees, legalization and taxation of sports betting, over $200 million worth of cuts, and revenue enhancements on such things as liquor and tobacco.
After failing to obtain an initial majority in the House of Representatives, Markell's sports betting proposal was approved on a second vote in May 2009. Legislation legalizing sports betting was quickly approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the Governor. Initial estimates of revenue for the state from sports betting were between 50 and 60 million dollars. Current revenues estimates are lower following a decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals banning single game bets.
Following late night budget negotiations at Legislative Hall, a compromise budget was passed by the General Assembly and signed at 4 AM on July 1, avoiding a budget crisis and government shut down. Several states in similar circumstances were unable to meet their budget deadlines and were forced to cut or close down many government offices and programs.
The FY 2011 budget focuses on job creation and economic development, counteracted by a reduction in the number of state employees. Compared to the 2009 budget, the new budget is $50 million less and includes 1,026 fewer state positions.Environment
Following through on several campaign promises early in his term, the Governor signed energy legislation aimed to reduce Delaware's energy consumption by 15% by 2015, updating building codes, and mandating that renewable energy be considered first when expanding supplies. Markell also creates a new recycling program, which would require both public and private waste collectors to offer curbside recycling pickups at least once every other week and provide containers. "The recycling bill was the home run of the year." said state Senator David McBride. A new clean energy bill will require utilities to rely on clean energy for 25% of their energy. This law also promotes shared solar installations and supports smaller green-energy projects.LGBT rights
On July 2, 2009, Markell signed legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, insurance, public accommodations and employment, ending a ten-year battle. On May 11, 2011, Markell also signed a civil union bill, which became effective on January 1, 2012.Education
Markell proposed and signed major educational reform initiatives, including abolishing the controversial Delaware Student Testing Program, establishing a pilot program to reward improving schools, and passing legislation to improve transparency and autonomy within school districts.
Markell facilitated the acquisition of the Newark Chrysler plant by the University of Delaware (UD) to build a research and technology campus that may generate both employment and local innovation. UD President Patrick Harker stated: “Our goal over time is to construct high performance facilities that support the University's Climate Action Plan and restore portions of the land and natural features.”
In March 2010, Delaware placed first out of the 16 finalists in the federal government’s grant competition for innovative education reform, making the state eligible to receive as much as $119 million. The money received will be used to identify and better Delaware’s low-performing schools, improve the system for evaluating students, and raise the standard for and improve the quality of the state’s educators.State economy
In addition to reduced state revenue, the current economic environment has driven rising unemployment. In response, Markell initiated several economic development initiatives, including the LIFT Program, meant to ensure the survival and growth of small businesses.
Following the closure of the GM plant in July 2009, Markell and his team pursued Fisker Automotive. Although in competition with several other states, a deal was signed to reopen the facility after just over two months of negotiations. Fisker will invest a minimum of US$175 million in upgrading the plant. Production of hybrid sedans will begin as early as 2011 for the domestic market as well as for export through the Port of Wilmington. Fisker anticipates that the process will create approximately 2,500 jobs and contribute to Delaware’s effort to compete in the “green economy.”
In 2010, the Markell administration had two more major economic successes that would help save and increase many jobs. When Valero announced that they were closing their Delaware City Refinery, Governor Markell began searching for an owner/buyer. Markell aided in the negotiations with Valero, allowing PBF Energy to purchase the refinery. They hope to have the refinery running as soon as spring 2011. Markell and PBF agreed that the company will receive economic development incentives in exchange for providing 600 full-time jobs.
Sallie Mae, one of the nation’s largest providers of student loans, decided to relocate their headquarters to Delaware. The company expects to hire as many as 1,500 Delawareans over the next five years. Thanks to the Delaware Strategic Fund, a state program that can provide economic incentives to companies thinking of moving to Delaware, Markell and his economic development team have also succeeded in attracting businesses such as Sanosil International and Testing Machines Inc.
In June 2010, the Governor signed into law the Business Finder’s Fee Tax Credit or “BFF”, which provides incentives for companies that bring new jobs to the state. “The BFF program will make us more effective and efficient by enlisting Delawareans across the state to search for more opportunities to create jobs,” said Markell.Budget and economy
Like Markell's first term, the slow national economic recovery left Delaware will a budget shortfall. In order to sign a constitutionally mandated balanced budget, Markell proposed a budget for fiscal year 2014 that included an extension of some 2009 revenue enhancements. While his budget extended previous tax increases, he also proposed to decrease tax rates where possible. He signed bills extending the tax rates in March 2013 and a full budget on July 1, 2013.
Facing a $139 million budget shortfall for 2015, Markell's proposed budget included a series of targeted tax increases and spending cuts. Markell's budget called for increases in taxes on LLC (Limited Liability Corporations) formation and the state's minimum corporate franchise tax. In an effort to boost jobs and improve the state's infrastructure, Markell also presented a $500 million transportation infrastructure initiative to be paid for by a 10-cent increase in the state's gas tax.LGBT rights
On May 7, 2013, Governor Markell signed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in Delaware, making Delaware the eleventh state in the nation to expand marriage rights to same-sex couples. A little over one month later, Markell signed legislation banning discrimination in employment, housing, insurance, public accommodations, and public works for transgender individuals.Campaign Finance
Following a legislative task force on election laws and a campaign finance report issued by special prosecutor Norman Veasey, Governor Markell joined with nearly two dozen legislators to introduce a series of six bills to combat corruption and strengthen state campaign finance laws. The bills, among other goals, would enhance investigative powers for election officials, expand disclosure requirements, and protect "whistleblowers" seeking to expose campaign finance violations.Gun control
Responding to a renewed national dialogue surrounding pervasive gun violence following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Governor Markell joined with Attorney General Beau Biden to introduce a series of five bills designed to curb gun violence. The proposals included requirements for reporting stolen or lost guns, a ban on certain assault weapons and high capacity magazine, universal background checks, new safeguards against licensing firearms to individuals with serious mental health issues, and a ban on firearms within 1000 feet of a school.
Not all of Markell's proposals passed the state legislature during the 2013 session. By July 2013, Markell had signed legislation on lost or stolen firearms and universal background checks. Legislation preventing firearms from being legally sold to individuals with serious mental illness failed in the state senate, despite the NRA remaining neutral and the House passing the same legislation by a vote of 40 to 1.Environment
In March 2014, Governor Markell proposed a $800 million effort to clean Delaware's long-neglected waterways. Announcing the new initiative, Markell said, ""Somebody has to do this [...] We have a fundamental responsibility, I believe, to leave the next generation cleaner water – water you can fish in, water you can swim in, not as many problems with drinking water, not as many problems with stormwater and all that flooding. ... It's just not acceptable and it's embarrassing." Markell proposes to pay for the new initiative through a series of loans and a small tax on water usage by homeowners, which would average around $45 a year.Minimum wage
Heading President Barack Obama's call for an increase in the minimum wage, Governor Markell signed legislation increasing Delaware's minimum wage to $8.25 an hour in March 2014. The increase boosts wages for 40,000 Delawareans, or roughly 10% of the state's workforce.Education
The Governor's World Language Expansion Initiative created language immersion programs at the elementary school level in either Mandarin or Spanish for Delaware children in grades K-8. By 2022, it is expected that 10,000 students will participate. In recognition of this accomplishment and of his support for world language and culture learning, Governor Markell received the Foreign Language Advocacy Award from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in 2013. In August 2014, the Governor signed House Bill 340 that requires school to have updated plans for a variety of emergency situations. The bill was considered a part of the governor's “state-of-the-art school safety plan” by the end of 2014 pledge.
In December 2013, following a lengthy investigation, special prosecutor E. Norman Veasey released a 101-page report that found that some campaign donors contributed in excess of the legal limits to several state campaigns, including Markell's 2008 race. The report found that personal emails from Markell to several of his contributors advised them on the perimeters of the campaign laws, information that the donors later used to donate beyond the legal limit. Special prosecutor Veasey released evidence that even when presented with information from donors that would identify their ownership in a business as being beyond the allowable limit for multiple donations, Markell and his campaign accepted funds above and beyond legal limits. The information that revealed that the donors were exceeding the allowable limit, however, was provided to the Markell campaign, along with the donations, in a column on a spreadsheet that was only viewable by using "formatting features on the spreadsheet software." Special prosecutor Veasey did not press charges against elected officials as the statute of limitations had expired and they found "no credible evidence" that Markell's campaign had intentionally broken the law, however, multiple donors had previously pleaded guilty for their participation.
After being elected by a large margin in 2008, Markell served as Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and the National Governor's Association, before being re-elected by an even larger margin of over 40%. This record setting margin and his overall national profile led some to believe that he wanted to seek the Democratic nomination in 2016, though he did not run. Although Markell expressed interest, he also said that he would support Joe Biden if he were to run.
On November 16, 2013, Jack Markell and his wife Carla performed A.R. Gurney's play Love Letters at a fund raiser for the Delaware Theater Company in Wilmington, Delaware.