The Hon. Harriet Smith Windsor stopped by Warren’s Station in Fenwick Island on June 2, for breakfast and an informal chat regarding her duties as Delaware Secretary of State.
Windsor gave a little personal background. A Millsboro native, she was a teacher at Seaford Senior High School and dean of instruction/English department chair at Delaware Tech before her appointment to then-Gov. Tom Carper’s cabinet (1993-2001, director of state personnel).
Windsor picked up various accolades en route Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s appointment to Secretary of State in 2001 — Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997, Delaware Mother of the Year in 1999 and a Carper-awarded Order of the First State in 2000.
However, speaking with the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce membership on June 2, she recounted incidents along the way that had helped to keep her grounded.
For instance, when a staffer asked for an extra piece of barbeque on Windsor’s behalf, and the server responded, “I don’t care what she’s in charge of, I’m in charge of the chicken.”
Or when she read “Cornstalks and Cannonballs” to a group of fourth-graders, and one of the students asked if she was reporting from personal experience (Lewes residents scare off the British, 1812).
Wounded pride aside, Windsor said her position was indeed a rather weighty one, and in ways probably not many people realized. Per state constitution, she said, she was number three in the line of succession (should something happen to both Minner and Lt. Gov. John Carney, she’d be running things).
When scheduling speaking engagements, etc., she said she remained ever mindful that the three of them never come together in the same place at the same time.
Recounting a bit of Delawarean political trivia, Windsor said she was the first woman appointed to the Secretary of State position — for a full term. Fannie Herrington was the real trailblazer, she said, back in 1925 (Herrington was appointed after her predecessor died in a yachting accident).
Windsor described Department of State duties ranging from background (position of the flags at formal functions) to front page (Board of Pardons). She also approves use of the official state seal. She chairs the Delaware Stadium Corporation (Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, Wilmington) and serves on the board for the Port of Wilmington.
In essence, Windsor said it was her responsibility to promote the state economy — and generate revenue.
She said Senate Majority Leader Thurman Adams (19th District) had made very clear to her at the outset that she’d better keep the incorporation business running smoothly.
“He reminds me very frequently that, in fact, if we did not have corporations, and the bank commissioner’s office, which between the two generate approximately 30 percent of the state’s revenue, we would immediately have a sales tax,” she said.
(The bank commissioner’s office generates 5 to 8 percent of state revenue through the bank franchise tax, corporations make up the difference.)
Windsor asked for guesses regarding how many companies had incorporated in Delaware — estimates of 100,000 or 300,000 weren’t even close. She said there were actually more than 750,000 corporations and other entities incorporated here.
According to Windsor, the national chamber of commerce consistently ranked Delaware number one throughout the country, and the world, as the most fair and equitable jurisdiction for business.
“They literally talk about Delaware first, and why we do all these things right, in the field of corporations and the Court of Chancery, and then they start to rank all the other states,” she said. “So when people say to me, who are your competitors, I say we really don’t have any.”
She admitted Delaware didn’t get everyone (Florida and Nevada are fast-friendly incorporation players, too), but 60 percent of the businesses that did incorporate here were Fortune 500 companies. “I think that should tell you a great deal about how we operate,” she said.
Windsor said she’d been in Vienna two years ago, promoting the Delaware package to 400 or 500 attorneys from 32 countries. “A gentleman from Australia came up to me, and said, ‘I really enjoyed your speech about why incorporate in Delaware, but when people ask me that, I just say everybody does it – so just do it.’” she pointed out.
In addition to Delaware’s business-specific Court of Chancery, and the state’s extensive body of case law, Windsor also touted customer services — 90 employees, one-hour service (for a fee), online access to corporate information, online tax and annual report filing and online filing of Universal Commercial Code (UCC) documents.
“I’d also like to mention that our legislature is friendly to us,” Windsor said. “When you talk to our representatives and senators, if there is some bill that needed to be passed to support corporations, believe me, it’s done very, very quickly in this state.”
She described other areas associated with her office, such as cultural and historic affairs, and the Delaware Public Archives. She described their efforts to bring the state bill of rights to the archives — apparently, since Delaware is the oldest state in the union, the National Archives was loath to give up the document.
They finally shipped it over via armored car, in the dead of night, and it’s on display at the Delaware Public Archives every year from Dec. 7 (Delaware Day) to July 4.
Windsor’s department also manages the Delaware Library Commission. Locally, she noted a $252,000 appropriation for design work at the South Coastal Library in this year’s (proposed) state budget and plans for $1.1 million in fiscal 2007, for construction.
She said there was now a link between Kent and Sussex libraries, Delaware Tech and the public archives. “So there’s another advantage for you, personally, and perhaps professionally,” Windsor said. “And small businesses are using the full text electronic business magazines, such as the “Harvard Business Review,” “Business Week,” and more and more are using the “ReferenceUSA” directory, with information on 120 million households and 12 million U.S. companies.”
Windsor’s department also includes Veterans Affairs (two cemeteries) and Human Relations (fairness and equity in housing).
She fielded a few questions and offered to talk with chamber members one on one if they thought of something later, and chamber President Phil Fleming thanked her for the presentation, saying, “I’m sure most of us — certainly, I didn’t realize how all-encompassing your responsibilities are.”
He also thanked her for the gifts — Windsor brought Seal of Delaware pins for everyone in attendance, and Fleming joked that in doing so, she’d raised the bar for all future speakers.
Chamber Executive Director Karen McGrath played along, saying Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) officials were slated to attend next month’s breakfast (update on Route 26) and she would advise them to bring gifts as well.
McGrath noted other upcoming chamber-related events — particularly reminding everyone to visit the 49th Annual Old Timer’s Day celebration in Selbyville on Saturday, June 18 (kicking off with a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting at the Selbyville Train Station).