In a state that prides itself on letting corporations off easy – especially local firms such as the DuPont chemical conglomerate – candidates for the position of Delaware Attorney General do not typically talk about throwing corporate criminals in jail. But Vivian Houghton is not a typical candidate for the top law enforcement job in Delaware – or, for that matter, most states.
A politically savvy lawyer with a long track record of high-profile involvement in Delaware debates on issues of concern to organized labor, women and minorities, Houghton has shaken up the contest for Attorney General this year by mounting a sophisticated Green Party campaign that pulls no punches. “If a worker commits a felony, she or he is jailed. Yet the state routinely makes companies, whose environmental violations contribute to Delaware’s high cancer rate, pay token fines,” says Houghton, who is running against Republican incumbent Attorney General M. Jane Brady and former U.S. Attorney Carl Schnee, a Democrat, in the most hotly contested statewide race on Tuesday’s Delaware ballot. “As Attorney General,” Houghton promises, “I will possess the toughness to cancel a company’s corporate charter if the company either commits a gross violation of its charter or repeatedly violates state regulations.”
It is rare to hear talk of pulling corporate charters coming from politicians in Delaware, a state that maintains deliberately weak regulations and enforcement practices in order to encourage corporations and banking institutions to incorporate there. (For instance, Enron chartered 685 subsidiaries in Delaware.) It is rarer still to hear talk about corporations contributing to high cancer rates in a state where the DuPont chemical conglomerate retains immense business and political power.
But Houghton is not easily intimidated. After all, she knows her way around Delaware politics. A veteran of dozens of issue-based campaigns for equal rights for women, civil rights and labor causes, she has helped run dozens of Democratic campaigns over the years, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign in the state. She quit the Democrats in 2000 and joined the Greens in time for Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign of that year. “The Green Party represents what I idealized the Democratic Party to be,” says Houghton, citing the Green platform’s commitment to economic and social justice. Houghton was also attracted by the party’s anti-corporate stance. “Why should corporate criminals be left to wine and dine each other in the Hotel du Pont’s Green Room when in the same city someone can be photographed and fingerprinted by the police for just standing on a street corner?” Houghton asks.