By Timothy R Bennett, Chairman
Congressional and Governmental Relations Committee
Sons of the American Revolution
The fifth in a series of interviews with Congressional SAR members was completed on 6 December 2004 with Representative Michael N Castle (R, DE) by Chairman of the Congressional and Governmental Relations Committee Timothy R Bennett and committee member and recorder Andrew M Johnson, both of the DCSSAR with NSSAR Secretary General Roland G Downing, a member of the Delaware Society.
Congressman Castle was elected to Congress in 1993 after serving in a number of Delaware governmental offices and as its two-term governor. Mr. Castle chairs the House Subcommittee on Education Reform and played a major role in shaping the legislation known as " No Child Left Behind." He also serves on the House Financial Services Committee which directly affects Delaware's financial services industries. Mr. Castle is currently serving his sixth term as Delaware's sole member in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Castle, how did you get interested in Politics?
I was not one who was interested in politics when I was young. I went through college and law school. I did not consider political office until after I had finished law school and became active in the Young Republicans. I was 26 when I first ran for the Delaware House of Delegates with a desire to help the people of that state and to meet the challenge of elected office. I ran in Wilmington and knocked on all the doors and got elected. Until that time, I wasn't all that interested in politics but I realized that you could do a lot for people and that it was actually interesting and challenging. I was one of the people who was elected before he understood he was interested in politics."
As chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform, you played a major role in shaping "No child Left Behind." Several teachers I've talked with mentioned how difficult it is mixing students of various backgrounds and abilities in the same classroom. Do you have any comment about this situation?
"Actually, mixing students of different backgrounds in the classroom is not a part of "No Child Left Behind", it doesn't speak to that at all. Schools and school districts are free to educate as they see the need. But what NCLB does is to establish subgroups and each of those subgroups has to achieve at a certain level in order for the school and ultimately the school district to make adequate yearly progress." For example, if you have 40 African-American students in a class, 40 Asian-American students, 40 Hispanic-American Students, 40 low income students, 40 with disabilities, 40 students taking advanced placement classes; each of those groups has to meet the average yearly progress in order for the school to advance. Certainly, some subgroups may be more difficult to teach but the law demands it. It's a tough no nonsense bill. "I don't think you can measure a school on how well you educate the ten kids who are going to Harvard; I think you have to measure schools on how well you educate the ten kids who have problems at the bottom as well." There's a lot of criticism and the jury is still out on whether this program is justified but my sense is that most states, like Delaware, were headed in this direction even before this bill passed.
You are a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees banking in the securities and insurance industries. As a stockbroker, many of your clients have experienced financial losses from the scandals and wrongdoings of several companies. With New York State Attorney General Spitzer investigating many of these problems, what is your subcommittee doing to promote more responsible financial regulations?
The Financial Services Committee has been pretty demanding; the Sarbanes-Oxley Act as you probably know, requires accountability and corporations are complaining about it as a hindrance and that it costs them money. The Act makes corporations toe the line in terms of what they are doing from the ethical and accounting point of view. More recently, we have had the mutual fund industry get itself into trouble which is ironic as we thought that was an area where we had no problems; actually, they have all kinds of problems. I am a believer that expensive stock options is a quite marginal practice which dilutes the ownership of other stockowners and I don't think it should happen. I think the Congress has been focused on corporate hi-jinx and I think Eliot Spitzer is a bit of a hero in this area – a lot of the reforms would not have happened without him.
Congressman Castle, you have served Delaware, the first state to ratify the constitution, as Deputy Attorney General, state legislator, Lieutenant Governor and twice as Governor. Do you have thoughts about a higher office?
"They say most lawyers want to be judges; I was a lawyer and I absolutely never wanted to be a judge." I am an elected congressman and I have absolutely no desire to be President of the US. I am not allowed to run for Governor of Delaware again so I would have to run for the US Senate or perhaps become a cabinet member. The later is highly unlikely considering my moderate politics in a conservative party. There would have to be a very clear path for me to consider running for the Senate. One thing I like about the House of Representatives is that every two years, I get to review whether I want to stay on; when you get to the Senate, you are there for six years and while it is easier not having frequent elections, you aren't quite so much on your toes regarding the decision to remain in public life. I am content and happy in the House of Representatives. But, "You never rule anything out…"
How did you get into te SAR? Are members of your family in the SAR, DAR, or CAR?
"Well, I got into the SAR I guess because of Jerry Martin who approached me in Wilmington. I actually don't talk about it but Benjamin Franklin is my 5th great grandfather – because I worry about the comparison." My mother was an active Colonial Dame but no one that I know about in my immediate family has been active in the SAR or DAR. Jerry was very convincing and I gladly became a member.
What is your position on preservation of historic sites especially American Revolutionary sites? The SAR is concerned that some of our schools do not include in their curriculum adequate instruction on the vision for this country as articulated by our founding fathers, and the patriotism and sacrifices of our forefathers to ensure this country's freedom. Do you believe that our schools are teaching American History well?
I have always been a strong supporter of the preservation of a variety of sites including those of the Revolution. Coach's Bridge in Delaware and the nearby battle of Brandywine are fascinating parts of American history. I visit those battle sites and I can almost picture what it was like with soldiers facing each other there at musket shot distance and I see the encroachment of civilization taking these spaces away. It isn’t just the battle site; if the site is surrounded by a housing development, well, that is a problem. We need to be more protective. "I am a tremendous believer in open spaces, greenways, preserving all the open areas we can, particularly in crowded states like Delaware. The historical sites, especially those which go to the founding of our country, are tremendously educational. It is a way of sort of educating children without them knowing it. Put them in a park with decent signage and they will probably absorb some American history."
Our country has a huge influx of immigrants most of whom do not have English as their first language. They need to understand the historical perspective in which this country was founded. Additionally, most young people today don’t learn in traditional ways; they learn from the internet, from CDs or TV; most aren’t going to pick up a book on civics or government and read it. "I am a total believer in the basic concepts on which this country was founded." I am amazed at the documents written in the 1700’s that still have huge significance today. The nation was basically Native Americans and people of European background then. Today, it is much more complex and we need to make sure that new Americans understand the values for which America fought for freedom from its European masters. Getting this part of American history into the popular media is very important to reach our youth.
The Sons of the American Revolution support many youth programs which seek to urge young Americans to make public service a part of their lives. As a public servant. what advice would you give young people regarding opportunities for training for their adult lives?
"To the extent possible, I think it is very important to have young people visit Washington, DC. " Iwould hope that they would have enough days here to visit the WWII and the VietNam War monuments to learn about that part of our history as well as visiting Lincoln, Jefferson and Capital Hill. "A week spent in Washington, DC is probably the best civics lesson you can have." I believe in kids volunteering, internships, programs like that because so often kids don’t get to see the other side of their society. I worry that young people may reach 18 years without ever being seriously engaged in some of the issues we have talked about here today.
What can we do as SAR members to educate, promote and "grow" our organization so we may be more effective?
"The four of us are an example of what we shouldn’t do; we need to grow younger." We need to identify children and grandchildren of current members. Perhaps we need an outside study of what we need to do or what we aren’t doing now to attract young people. Identification of eligibles is vital and there are organizations out there now that can get you information on all kinds of categories of Americans. If we could list all those qualified for membership, it would be tremendously helpful.
If you left politics would you return to the legal profession or something else?
"I always thought that I would have a career after politics but perhaps I have stayed in politics longer than I expected to. I dabble in real estate and I enjoy running things although I have no particular corporate knowledge. I really don’t have an answer to that since I focus on my job here and then on reelection so quickly that I don’t really ever stop to think about another future."
Are there any committees on which you would like to serve of which you are not currently a member?
I talked about going on another committee but the leadership is clearly discouraging people from jumping committees. I have enjoyed the Education Committee and the Financial Services Committee is important to Delaware and also enjoyable. I served on the Intelligence Committee which you might think is a very glamorous committee but which is in reality a lot of hard work and frustrating at times… I am satisfied with my committee assignments."
Congressman Castle, do you wish to make points or ask any questions?
I appreciate what it is you do and Ithink you have to ask what you need to do about the issue of renewal. Doing the same thing isn’t always the answer and every year is different. Everything has to change even though the SARis an historically based organization. Sometimes you need to make it more attractive but I can’t tell you how. I would suggest that you look at Constitution Center in Philadelphia. That is the kind of modern display that will engage anybody.