Imagine for a moment that Republicans were not consumed with the various faults of the party's newly chosen Delaware Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell. What would GOP operatives, both in Delaware and in Washington, be doing right now? They would be attacking the record of O'Donnell's Democratic opponent, Chris Coons. As it turns out, there's plenty to attack, if Republicans ever get around to it.
GOP officials, both local and national, have long been preparing for a run against Coons. Until very recently, they thought their candidate would be Mike Castle. But in any event, they knew their opponent, and the same issues that would have been effective for Castle against Coons could be effective for O'Donnell.
Coons, 47, is the top executive of New Castle County, home to a majority of Delaware's population. From a Republican perspective, there's one really important thing to know about his time in office: In 2004, when Coons first ran for the job, he promised not to raise taxes. Since then, he has raised taxes not once, not twice, but three times.
Coons inherited a surplus. Celebrating victory on election night in 2004, he said his "top priority would be to continue balancing the budget without increasing property taxes," according to an account in the local News Journal. Yet in 2006, he pushed through a 5 percent increase in property taxes. In 2007, he raised property taxes 17.5 percent. In 2009, he raised them another 25 percent.
Coons wanted to raise other taxes, too. He proposed a hotel tax, a tax on paramedic services, even a tax on people who call 911 from cell phones.
Coons says the increases were necessary because New Castle County, despite its surplus, was saddled with extravagant spending obligations made by his predecessor. "Chris made really tough decisions, and after bringing folks together was able to say that we have to have some level of shared sacrifice if we want to get the county back on track," says Coons spokesman Daniel McElhatton. "He was able to restore New Castle County to fiscal responsibility."
Well, not exactly. In January 2009, Coons warned that the county might be headed for bankruptcy.
A few months ago, preparing for the expected race against Castle, Coons sought to pre-empt the tax issue with a frank acknowledgement. "Chris Coons raised your taxes," he said in an interview with Politico. "Absolutely. Guilty as charged, your honor." Coons argued that he had also cut spending by historic amounts to keep the county solvent.
Now, on his campaign website, Coons expresses deep concern about the federal government's "runaway debt." A number of his proposals to cut the deficit involve collecting more taxes.