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Gov. Markell takes on Mitt Romney in Democratic Convention speech

Taking the stage to chants of “We Back Jack” from the Delaware delegation, Gov. Jack Markell used his prime time slot on The Democratic National Convention’s second night to take direct aim at Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

In a speech that lasted eight minutes to close out the 8 o’clock hour, Markell took on the business credentials and experience Romney often touts as reasons he is best suited to handle the American economy.

“I’ve got nothing against business executives running for office. After all, I am one,” said Markell citing to his previous experience as an executive at Nextel. “But as someone who has been a businessman and a governor, let me level with you: just because Mitt Romney was a successful private equity executive, that does not mean he deserves to be president.”

Markell argued the skills that make a successful private equity executive are not the same skills that make for a successful political executive.

“As an executive in private equity, Mitt Romney’s focus was on the bottom line. And that makes sense: his constituents were his financial shareholders. When he closed factories and sent jobs overseas, it was to benefit his shareholders. That was his job, and he was good at it,” said Markell. “When you are a governor, or the president, it’s different. Your shareholders are teachers, construction workers, and hardware store owners. And your bottom line is not what goes into your pocket—but what goes into theirs.”

Markell specifically attacked Romney’s opposition to the auto industry bailout as evidence he learned the wrong lessons from his business background and does not understand the importance of the middle class. He contrasted that to his efforts to find a buyer to reopen the Delaware City refinery when Valero shut it down in late 2009, laying off 600 workers The refinery eventually reopened when PBF Energy agreed to buy the plant with help from incentives provided by state and local governments.

“You see, my shareholders were those refinery workers. I had to deliver for them,’ said Markell. “Let me ask you: what do you think Mitt Romney would have done if that call came in? Well, Mitt Romney has already told us what he would do. Mitt Romney says he likes to fire people. Barack Obama? He likes to see people hired.”

Markell is currently seeking a second term as governor. He is being challenged by Republican Jeff Cragg, a Wilmington small business owner, in the November general election.

Cragg and Delaware GOP leaders seized on Markell’s discussion of the auto industry bailout in his convention speech as an opportunity to renew their criticism of the state’s effort to lure electric car maker Fisker Automotive to the shuttered GM plant in Newport. The suspension of a federal loan payments to Fisker halted work to retool the plant to produce its Atlantic line of cars.

““Delawareans are smarter than what the Governor gives them credit for. There are 30,611 unemployed citizens in our state, the promise of thousands of jobs under the failed agreement with Fisker Automotive remains unfulfilled and the so-called ‘Delaware Way’ of a one-party system has left voters more than frustrated with the current course,” said Cragg in a statement.

“The Democratic Party of Delaware should be ashamed by Governor Markell’s remarks this evening regarding auto industry jobs,” added John Fluharty, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Delaware in a separate statement. “The Republican Party of Delaware and the 30,611 Delaware citizens who are currently unemployed look forward to allowing Republican candidate for Governor Jeff Cragg to educate Governor Markell on this topic. Lesson #1 – FISKER: An empty building in Delaware with no jobs and $30,000 a month in utility bills covered by the taxpayers.”

The Markell administration has maintained it is optimistic Fisker will be able to renegotiate its loan with the federal government or find other funding and resume work at the Newport facility. As recently as last month, Fisker officials told WDDE the company is still “in the process of securing sufficient funding to fully restart the Atlantic program” and that Delaware is still “our first option for manufacturing.”

UPDATE (9/6/2012 – 5am):
Gov. Markell’s speech did run afoul with one fact checking organization. Politifact.com, run by the Tampa Bay Times, took issue with Markell’s claim that Gov. Romney “likes to fire people.” The site label that statement “false”, saying it takes comments Romney made in January referring to what people should do if they are unhappy with health insurance providers out of context.