Former Delaware state treasurer Chip Flowers spoke candidly about everything from Alaska-gate to the harassment charges filed against him last summer.
Flowers reached out to me after Christmas to set up his last interview in Delaware. We met Monday afternoon, just hours after his final press conference as treasurer in Dover, ending a tough 4-year term, and a particularly bitter 2014.
In contrast to his demeanor during the news conference where he read from a bombshell-laden prepared statement, Flowers seemed happy, loose and ready to answer whatever I threw at him.
Largely, we addressed the scandal including his former deputy Erika Benner, his accusations of racism within the state and who he thinks is out to “destroy” him.
Flowers said as the only African American statewide office-holder he has mixed emotions on the state of race in Delaware, given how he was treated by the political leadership in the state as well as by “certain print media.”
His statement read, “I watched leaders of this state overlook the criminal actions of the former deputy state treasurer [Erika Benner], a non-minority,” who was, “presumably permitted to leave the state quietly without a single criminal charge on her record.”
Benner and Flowers were accused of using their state credit cards to make personal purchases. A state auditor’s report found Benner abused the system, but found no malfeasance on Flowers’ part.
Benner also filed a harassment complaint against Flowers with Dover Police last summer. The department cleared Flowers of any criminal wrongdoing.
“You’re not going to lie on the first African American statewide officeholder, we’re not going to stand for that,” said Flowers, when asked why he felt the need to rehash all of the drama of 2014 in his final press conference.
Flowers also said the news coverage in the News Journal, he called them out by name, also capitalized on the African American stealing stereotype.
“I’m personally well off, but to accuse me of stealing money to go to a treasurer’s conference and buy extra pancakes and run it 50 times in the paper, that’s the most ridiculous thing ever,” Flowers said.
“In the past, to me, you have said [Jack] Markell, our governor, has a vendetta against you. Do you think the News Journal has a vendetta against you,” I asked.
“What should’ve been done is not to put the African American treasurer on the front of the paper and say he’s the one, scandal filled, bombastic,” Flowers said. “I think they went back and they kinda jumped the gun.”
Unclear whether it was a response to Flowers’ accusations, the News Journal published a Flowers-related opinion piece by John Sweeney on Wednesday.
Political hit job
Flowers believes Delaware’s political leadership blackballed him because they were threatened by his political career and subsequently exploited the Benner scandal to get him out of office.
“Someone from Harvard, one of my director friends there said, ‘This was probably the best political hit job you could do on a person when the person wasn’t guilty of anything,'” he said.
When Benner filed the harassment complaint against Flowers, he said he initiated a federal investigation into the matter.
“I picked up the phone and called them,” Flowers said bluntly. “I have no doubt in my mind that I am not sitting somewhere on some trumped up charge because the federal authorities got involved and said, ‘Hey, you know, this guy didn’t do anything.'”
I asked Chip, “Do you think you might come off as a little paranoid?” Without saying yes or no, Flowers replied, “You know the best way to get somebody? I’ve learned this lesson in the state of Delaware. The best way to really get someone, you isolate them. That’s how you get someone. You isolate them, you put everybody out there, make them think that they’re crazy.”
Republican Ken Simpler was sworn into office on Tuesday. Ahead of the general election, Flowers, a Democrat, posted what seemed like a non-endorsement endorsement of the GOP candidate on his Facebook page. Simpler ran against Democrat Sean Barney, a former policy director for Markell.
“This was probably January of last year when [Simpler] just announced, I said, ‘I’ll make one promise to you, that if you beat me you are never going to have to worry about a transition,'” said Flowers, who said he had no idea what to do on a daily basis when he was elected.
“The state of Delaware doesn’t have an official transition team for elected officials,” he explained. “Basically you are relying on the person ahead of you to tell you what to do,” but Flowers said Markell appointee Velda Jones-Potter did not speak to him at all during the transition. Flowers defeated Jones-Potter in the 2010 Democratic primary.
Flowers was encouraged, however, to learn that Gov. Markell has already reached out to Simpler.
“He didn’t reach out for me for three years, but I don’t care now. It’s like, yes, learn that lesson, probably not a good idea not to talk to your treasurer for three years,” Flowers said.
Flowers alluded to a website that will archive his work as state treasurer in his statement. The site, chipflowers.com, is live, but still in development, Flowers said. But when all is said and done, it’s expected to serve as a how-to guide for anyone interested in running for a statewide office as well a road map if one should find themselves in political hot water.
“There was nobody ahead of me, at least an African American, that said, this is how you break this barrier,” he said. “There was nobody who said, ‘Well this is what you need to do, this is how you run a statewide campaign.'”
Flowers wants to expose the secret sauce, his words. “I’m gonna go and tell people how to do it, the thoughts I have, make sure you have your own money so you don’t have to cut any shady deals, I’m going to put as much out there as possible so people, good, decent people can enter government.”
Flowers said he personally financed the website with additional support from family, friends and donors. Flowers said personal recordings of Cash Management Policy Board meetings will also be posted to the site, in hopes of providing as much transparency as possible to the public.
Flowers often clashed with the cash board over the state’s $2 billion cash investment portfolio. Their conflicts resulted in the state passing legislation earlier this year clarifying that the 9-member board, not the treasurer alone, makes those investment decisions.
While Flowers said he loves Delaware and its people, he is moving to Boston. Flowers does not have any specific office in mind, but said his life in public service is not over.
My final question, “Are you prepared for all of this to be rehashed and to come up again because it will come up again,” to which Flowers said, “I’m ready for it.”
My entire 22-minute interview with Chip Flowers is posted here in two parts.
A condensed version of the interview is scheduled to air Friday on First at 5:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.