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Thomas R. Carper
Congressional Papers

See below for collection citation and reference information.

Biographical Note

Thomas Richard ("Tom") Carper was born on January 23, 1947, in Beckley, West Virginia, the son of Jean and Richard Carper. He grew up in Danville, Virginia. Carper attended Ohio State University on a Naval ROTC scholarship and was graduated in 1968 with a bachelor of arts in economics. After graduation, Carper served three tours of duty in Southeast Asia as a flight officer in the U.S. Navy, 1968-1973. Carper flew a P-3 Orion aircraft, used for surface and subsurface surveillance of the ocean. During the Vietnam War, the P-3 was used to conduct low-altitude patrols of the coastal waters of Vietnam and Cambodia to detect North Vietnamese infiltrator trawlers attempting to enter the territorial waters of South Vietnam. Carper flew close to 400 hours on such missions. He received the Air Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, two Navy Achievement Medals, and three Vietnam Campaign ribbons. Upon discharge from active duty, he became a commander in the Naval Reserve.

After his return from Southeast Asia in 1973, Carper attended the University of Delaware and received a master's degree of business administration in 1975. He worked as an industrial development specialist for the Delaware Division of Economic Development from 1975-1976 and taught undergraduate classes in business administration. Carper first became involved in Delaware politics as treasurer for the James R. Soles for Congress campaign in 1974. In 1976, he ran for state treasurer on the Democratic ticket and was elected. He won re-election to the office in 1978 and 1980. As treasurer, Carper managed the sale of the state-owned bank and established a cash management system to manage daily balances of over 150 million dollars. He was widely recognized for improving the state's credit rating -- from worst in the nation to a respectable "AA" -- in only five years.

In 1982, Carper ran for Congress and defeated Republican incumbent Thomas B. Evans, Jr., becoming the first Democrat in sixteen years to hold Delaware's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He retained this seat until 1992 when he was elected governor of the state of Delaware. Carper has the longest winning streak of any Delaware politician, having run for and successfully won ten elections between 1976 and 1996. (See Appendix A for election results of Carper's congressional campaigns.)

In 1978 Carper married Diane Beverly Isaacs of Greenwood, Delaware. They were divorced five years later in 1983. In 1986, Carper married Martha Ann Stacy. They have two sons: Christopher, born in 1988, and Ben, born in 1990. Carper is a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the New Castle Presbyterian Church, and Common Cause.

Carper was elected as a Democrat to the Ninety-eighth and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1983 - January 3, 1993). These five Congresses were under Democratic party leadership in the House during the Republican administrations of President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and President George Bush (1989-1993). (See Appendix E for presidential elections and House leadership [as well as Supreme Court members] during this time.) With frequently opposing political philosophies, the legislative and executive branches of government dealt with a wide variety of domestic and foreign issues during these times. The 1980s were years of active economic development based on technological growth. Urgent calls were made to balance the federal budget and reduce deficit spending. A national financial crisis occurred in the savings and loan industry. Energy conservation and development of renewable energy resources were important subjects. Environmental issues encompassed "clean up" efforts for acid rain, oil spills, hazardous wastes, and ocean dumping. The Environmental Protection Agency established Superfund. Social concerns included unemployment, homelessness, health care and welfare reform, with increased attention on education, crime, gun control, and drug problems by the end of the decade. Abortion was debated between pro-choice and pro-life advocates. AIDS became a significant health problem; Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Defense topics included international disarmament, a nuclear freeze, and debate over a Strategic Defense Initiative. Foreign affairs pursued accountability for American prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action to prepare for renewed relations with countries in Southeast Asia. The Iran-Contra affair complicated the American role in the struggle between the Contras and Sandanistas in Nicaragua. The United States engaged in the Gulf War between Iraq and Kuwait. Calls for international human rights and the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, reflected significant changes in world order. International trade evolved and led to passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Carper chairing the Economic Stabilization Subcommittee, 1991-1992 Congressman Carper represented his Delaware constituents in responding to these issues. In addition to traditional congressional functions of solving casework and voting on legislation, Carper served on committees and was a member of several congressional caucuses. He dealt with significant financial issues, particularly the savings and loan crisis, in service through the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee. His Banking subcommittees included Financial Institutions Supervision, Regulation and Insurance; Domestic Monetary Policy; International Development, Finance, Trade and Monetary Policy; Policy Research and Insurance; Housing and Community Development; and Economic Stabilization, of which he was elected chair in the 102d Congress (1991-1992).

On behalf of Delaware and its coastal issues, Carper was keenly interested in environmental topics. He served on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, and its subcommittees for Coast Guard and Navigation; and Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment.

Membership in several caucuses and other congressional organizations gave Congressman Carper a chance to keep abreast of other timely issues. He was a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, the Congressional Steel Caucus, the Environmental and Energy Study Conference, the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, the 70001 Ltd. Club, the Vietnam Veterans in Congress, and the U.S. Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus. Congressman Carper was also a co-founder of the Democratic Budget Study Group.

Throughout his career in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Carper was known as a moderate on social issues and a conservative on fiscal issues. In 1985, his voting record was described as "centrist," for siding with a conservative coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans 51 per cent of the time. He was not afraid to take an unpopular position on an issue, such as the savings and loan debacle, when he clashed with Speaker of the House Jim Wright over the amount of money that should be allowed to assist the FSLIC in bailing out thrifts. Carper often proposed compromises between radically different bills before a subcommittee, committee, or the House, attempting to get a basic bill passed, rather than squandering time in disagreement over small points. Carper was esteemed and congratulated by his colleagues in the House for his efforts to strike compromises in these legislative debates; they thought he showed tenacity and genuine interest in passing legislation for the good of the American people.

As a lone congressman, the term given to members of Congress who are the sole representatives of their states, Carper did not have other representatives from his state to work with in bringing forth legislation in the House. Carper usually tried to approach other members of Congress he felt would work with him or with whom he had worked in the past to begin the process of putting together legislation for a specific purpose. He personally lobbied other members for or against legislation affecting Delaware and worked tirelessly to gain their support, expecting the same effort from his legislative assistants. This is illustrated in clippings pertaining to the Annunzio-Wylie Amendment, which would have limited the ability of banks in Delaware to sell insurance. Carper personally went to every member on the House Banking Committee to ask them to vote against the amendment, and the tactic worked.

Carper identified the major issues in his first congressional campaign to be reversing a faltering national economy, balancing the federal budget, supporting the military but avoiding overspending on development of ineffective weapons, avoiding the proliferation of nuclear arms, supporting higher education, and addressing unemployment, social security, and crime. In his 1984 campaign, Carper referred to his record of sponsoring legislation to strengthen enforcement of fair housing; to ensure continuation of a strong Civil Rights Commission independent of political interference from the White House; and to end discrimination in education against women, minorities, and the handicapped. He had sponsored reauthorization of critical legislation to protect air and water resources, and other legislation to ban sewage sludge dumping off coastal waters and to combat the effects of acid rain. Carper called for negotiation of a bilateral mutual and verifiable freeze on nuclear weapons, and for continuation of the fight to reduce the budget deficit.

Congressman Carper was a proponent of recycling, clean air, and clean water. He was a strong advocate of environmental legislation to protect and clean up the nation's coastal resources, a relevant issue for Delaware. He was opposed to using the ocean as a dumping ground for sludge and chemicals. Carper worked hard to prevent large cities from continuing to dump in the ocean, encouraging them, instead, to find alternative disposal methods such as the use of landfills or incineration. Congressman Carper's additional environmental legislative interests regarded strengthening citizens' rights to know about hazardous substances in their communities.

A member of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee (MMF) from 1983-1991, he was faced with several important pieces of legislation relating to high-profile incidents such as the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, and oil crises of the 1980s in the aftermath of the Gulf War, which led to proposals of drilling for domestic oil in the Arctic wilderness of Alaska. As a member of the MMF Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment Subcommittee, Carper traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. Carper called for a national energy plan that would consider development of alternate domestic energy resources, but also include conservation measures. On a smaller scale, Carper attempted to change use of daylight savings time with H.R. 4251 The Energy Conservation Daylight Savings Act of 1983. The bill promoted energy conservation by extending daylight savings time by one month, beginning in early March rather than early April. The bill did not pass the House, but is an example of Carper's efforts to conserve energy.

Concern for the health of the nation's economy and the fiscal responsibility of the government prompted Congressman Carper to support the popular call for a Balanced Budget Amendment. He introduced legislation in 1991 and 1992 regarding a balanced budget, accommodating times when this goal could not be met, but seeking to increase the incidence of balanced budgets during periods of sustained economic growth. Carper also supported proposals for line-item presidential veto, or expedited rescission. Carper believed that empowering the president to rescind expenditures at the item level would allow more bills to pass, and put a crimp on legislative "pork" (pet projects benefitting single congressional districts).

Through the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, Carper supported efforts to ensure safety and soundness of the nation's banking and financial institutions, and to improve the regulatory structures that supervise them. The crisis in the savings and loan industry in the 1980s was the focus of much of Congressman Carper's work on the Banking Committee during that time. The crisis was precipitated by deregulation of financial institutions, coupled with desupervision of their practices, and an increase in the cap on insured deposits from $ 40,000 to $ 100,000. Carper's first major bill to pass the House occurred in his second term when he sponsored a bill to strengthen supervision of all United States financial institutions, including savings and loans, but the threat of a presidential veto killed the measure in a Republican-controlled Senate. In 1987, Carper led a fight in the House to substantially raise the insurance premiums that savings and loans were then paying, to allow bankrupt thrifts to be closed and avoid a huge taxpayer bailout. In that fight, Carper worked with the Reagan administration and against Speaker Jim Wright and the S&L lobby, but he lost. A critical collapse in the savings and loan industry in the Southwest occurred due to massive fraud by officers, directors, and others associated with the industry. Carper speared another House fight to authorize $ 75 million to hire FBI agents, investigators, prosecutors, or judges to bring the "looters" to justice; and the House passed the Bank Law Enforcement Act.

Carper was a strong advocate for Delaware veterans With his background of service in the U.S. Navy, Congressman Carper followed with interest issues related to veterans, the national defense, and foreign affairs. Carper was a strong advocate on behalf of veterans in Delaware. He held an important state forum in 1991 to review and explain changes and benefits provided by the Veterans Administration. Carper was also responsible for inclusion of necessary funds in the president's 1993 budget to add a clinic and update quality health services at the Veterans Hospital in Elsmere, Delaware. In 1991, as the United States sought to normalize relations with Vietnam, Carper joined a congressional delegation on a trip to Southeast Asia. Each member of the delegation had previous service in the Vietnam War, and they sought to resolve verification and return of POW/MIA remains.

Carper made other significant trips related to foreign affairs: he traveled to Nicaragua in 1983 and 1987 concerning U.S. aid during the struggle between the Contras and Sandanistas; to the Middle East at the beginning of 1984 to evaluate relations between Egypt and Israel; to Costa Rica in 1988 as one of a five-member congressional delegation observing a summit between the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and El Salvador; and to Panama in 1990 to deal with economic and political issues related to the Canal during the dictatorship of General Manuel Noriega.

Carper believed in a healthy defense for national security, but thought growth of any weapons programs should be restrained in light of the budget deficit. He suggested that the United States should abandon land-based missiles, and rely on more effective submarine missiles. He was moderately supportive of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), saying its value was that the threat of its development would lead the Soviets earnestly to negotiate cuts in offensive nuclear weaponry. Overall, Carper believed in stopping the arms race and preferred to promote the economic interests in international relations. In Delaware, Carper was effective in obtaining federal appropriations to improve and continue operations at the Dover Air Force Base, the largest one on the East Coast. Carper held that maintaining Dover's infrastructure would guard the base against being closed in the wake of future military cutbacks.

Congressman Carper also won approval of the House to authorize and appropriate funds needed to build a new bridge across the federally-owned Chesapeake and Delaware Canal at St. Georges, Delaware. Representing an enormous investment in Delaware's infrastructure, the bridge was argued to be a vital link in a new north-south highway to bypass Dover and Smyrna. Carper overcame the initial objections of the Bush administration and the Army Corps of Engineers for the project. Meeting other state interests in transportation, environmental concerns, and protection of tourism, Carper proposed and won approval for several erosion studies and stabilization projects of Delaware's Atlantic Ocean shoreline, as well as the shorelines of the Delaware Bay and the Indian River Inlet.

With Delaware's close proximity to the nation's capital, Carper had the opportunity to be a commuting congressman. He rode the train daily, between Wilmington and Washington, D.C., when Congress was in session. From his constituents in Delaware, Congressman Carper had a popular reputation for accessibility through frequent, statewide town meetings. He held focused forums, such as one to explore the cost and quality of health care in Delaware, and seminars, such as one to encourage Delaware women to strengthen their roles in the businesses. In addition to an office in Wilmington, Carper opened an office in Dover to facilitate contact with Kent and Sussex countians. He secured labor union endorsements and wide support from the business community. At the end of five terms in Congress, Carper was a respected representative for his fiscal responsibility, for his reputation as a consensus-seeking moderate, for his concern for the environment, and for his advocacy of technological, entrepreneurial, and capital development in Delaware. He campaigned successfully for the governorship of Delaware in 1992 and was re-elected to the state's leadership in 1996.

+ Scope and Content Note

+ Return to Index Page for Thomas R. Carper Congressional Papers

+ Guide to Other Political Papers at the University of Delaware Library

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citation and reference information:

Thomas R. Carper
Congressional Papers

1979 - 1993
(bulk dates 1982 - 1992)

Manuscript Collection Number: 399
Accessioned: Gift of Thomas R. Carper, 1992, 1998-1999
Extent: 95 linear ft. and oversize material
Content: Legislation, correspondence, reports, documents and publications, memoranda, speeches, photographs, audio-visual material, newsletters, news clippings, and ephemera.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: November 1997 - December 1999 by Rebecca J. Altermatt with assistance from Rob Costello; edited by L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin.

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