Delaware's New Gov Once A Typist in State's Top Office
By Ken Grant, Special to Stateline
Ruth Ann Minner is quite a woman. She's the first woman to serve in a leadership position in Delaware's House of Representatives, the state's first woman lieutenant governor and in January, she will be the first woman to serve as governor.
The 65-year old Milford native's rise to the pinnacle of Delaware politics is truly a modern day Horatio Alger story. Her remarkable journey started 28 years ago when she was working as a typist in the governor's office.
Minner grew up on a tenant farm, and had to drop out of school when she was 16 to work the farm. A year later, she married and began raising a family.
But in 1967, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack and at age 32, Minner found herself widowed with three sons to raise. Over the next few years she worked two jobs, earned her high school graduate equivalent degree (General Education Development, or G.E.D.) and went on to college.
Then she married Roger Minner, helped start a towing business and went to work as a secretary for then-Delaware Gov. Sherman Tribbitt. In 1974, with the encouragement of friends and family, Minner ran for the House of Representatives. She was one of a small group of women elected to the General Assembly who helped pave the way for more women to run for office.
"When women first started running, I guess they thought we were supposed to be meek and soft-spoken," Minner says. "It took some time to gain the respect of some of the men in the community."
While the House seat Minner held was normally occupied by a new person every two years, she was able to get reelected four times. She then ran for and was elected to the state Senate, where she served from 1982 to 1992.
Throughout her career in the General Assembly, Minner was seen as an advocate for the environment, child care and adult education. Many adults in Delaware have cited Minner as their inspiration for returning to the classroom.
In 1992, Minner was elected lieutenant governor, and in that capacity went from being involved in the daily give and take of the legislative process to presiding over the body -- something she says took some getting used to.
"The hardest part was when a question came up on the Senate floor that I had the answer to, but I couldn't say anything," she says.
Minner did, however, help to reorganize parts of the executive branch. The Minner Commission is credited with reforming the departments of Labor, Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Personnel, Administrative Services and the Division of Motor Vehicles.
In 1996, Minner easily won her reelection bid and started looking ahead to 2000.
While the Republican party was split this year by a primary battle that saw business leader John M. Burris narrowly defeat former Superior Court Judge William Swain Lee, a unified Democratic Party rallied behind Minner as its choice for governor.
Most of the debate in the fall campaign centered on Delaware's new education accountability law and environmental issues.
On Nov. 7, 59 percent of Delaware voters chose Minner over Burris. Since then, she has named her seven member transition staff and put together a 50 member team to help review the state's agencies and make policy and personnel recommendations.
On Jan. 3, 2001, Minner will take over the gubernatorial duties as Gov. Thomas R. Carper leaves for Washington, DC to begin his new position as US Senator. Minner's formal inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 16, one day before her 66th birthday.