The untimely death of Joseph R. Biden III, forever known as “Beau,” is tragic in its own right. Beau’s passing leaves a significant vacuum in Delaware politics and changes the landscape for decades to come.
When Beau Biden stepped down as Delaware Attorney General after two terms and announced his intention to run for governor in 2016, he immediately became the front runner for that post.
For one, Delaware residents continued to hold Beau in high regard, giving him a 60-percent approval rating in a recent poll. Further, as a Democrat, he carried the advantage of recent party success in gubernatorial elections, a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, and voter registration clearly favoring Democrats. Beau’s unexpected demise most likely ends a nearly half-century consecutive run of public service by Joe and Beau Biden and verifies the adage that Joe proved in his initial U.S. Senate run: there are no sure things.
A future governor may advocate some policies similar to those which Beau trumpeted during his distinguished public career. During his service as attorney general, he aggressively prosecuted child predators. Though still favoring retaining the death penalty, he established a review board to ensure fairness in the application of the ultimate punishment. His team sought to limit gun access in the state. Recent events point to a similar direction for the first two issues above, though how the third plays out may be dependent on which party wins the governorship in 2016.
There are, however, a number of issues where Beau’s mark would have uniquely been felt. First, his commitment to the military through his National Guard service was clearly something he would have demonstrated once in an executive leadership post. Some of the challenges facing Delaware veterans — health care and homelessness among them — may have received more attention than at present. Second, his reverence for family would have been manifested in education policies. Finally, Beau’s experience abroad imbued him with a keen appreciation for the contribution of immigrants to American culture and Delaware in particular.
Beau Biden will be remembered for many things. His career might have included stints as governor, U.S. senator, and possibly a run for president. He could have ridden a quick path to political stardom using the fame of his family name, yet, chose his own route for public service. Even if Delaware’s political direction is uncertain as a result of Beau’s death, its people are better for his life and positive legacy.
Editor’s note: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University.