WILMINGTON, Del. – Among the wealthy of Ponts, who preferred the privacy of their elegant homes and the offices and factories of the chemical company that bore their name, Pierre S. “Pete” of Pont IV was a little rebellious.
Du Pont, who died on Saturday at the age of 86 after a long illness, according to his former chief of staff, broke with family tradition by leaving the family business for a career in law and politics.
This led du Pont to several elected positions and an unsuccessful candidacy in the 1987-88 Republican primary race.
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The du Ponts, large industrialists of the establishment, were among the richest families in the country. This was not a problem for du Pont when he ran for a national office in Delaware.
After one term at Delaware State House and three terms in Congress, du Pont was elected governor in 1976 and set out to restore the state to financial stability.
However, his elite background proved to be a problem for him in his run for national elections.
“I was born with a well-known name and a real opportunity. I hope I have lived up to both,” du Pont said when announcing his long-standing presidential candidacy in September 1986. As little-known governor of a small state, du Pont must have stood out from the rest of the Republican field – including Vice President George Bush and Senator Bob Dole.
He did so by questioning sacrosanct social programs that his better-known rivals were afraid to deal with, such as the removal of agricultural affiliates.
Some of his positions were more conservative than those taken by then-President Ronald Reagan, including mandatory drug testing of high school students.
Du Pont insisted his candidacy was a candidacy of ideas, and he offered no apologies, even after Bush rejected Du Pont’s “bonkers” idea of creating another form of social security modeled after. on IRA private accounts. The idea later became a mainstream Republican proposal. So we made another, the choice of school.
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“Before you run for president, you have to decide why you want to be president and what you do if you get there,” du Pont said. “The only thing that would be worth it to be in this position is to try to change the things that need to be changed.”
But Du Pont’s withdrawal in February 1988 became inevitable after his poor performance in the Iowa caucuses and in the New Hampshire primary.
During an appearance at the Hotel du Pont in downtown Wilmington, where du Pont announced he was abandoning his campaign for president, he praised an electoral process that gave the White House a chance at a former governor of a small state with unorthodox ideas.
“You gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. You listened, you thought and you chose. I couldn’t have asked for more,” said du Pont. “Because in America, we don’t promise that everyone wins, only that everyone has the chance to try.”
Pierre du Pont IV was born on January 22, 1935 in Delaware. After attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he graduated from Princeton University in 1956 with an engineering degree. After four years in the Navy, he obtained a law degree from Harvard University in 1963.
He joined the Du Pont company, where he held several positions, resigning from his post of quality control manager in 1968 to begin his political career.
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He left a firm imprint on the government of his native state.
After running unopposed for a seat in the State House in 1968, du Pont immediately set his sights on Congress, posing as a fiscal conservative and winning the first of three terms in 1970.
As governor, du Pont fought successfully to restore the financial integrity of a state he declared “bankrupt” shortly after his inauguration in 1977. He chaired two income tax cuts ; constitutional amendments limiting state spending and requiring three-fifths of the vote in the legislature to raise taxes; and creation of an independent revenue forecasting group.
After a rocky start with Democratic lawmakers, including an embarrassing waiver of a 1977 budget veto, du Pont forged fruitful relationships with lawmakers on both sides to tackle thorny issues such as prison overcrowding and corruption and school desegregation. He was re-elected in a landslide in 1980, winning a record 71% of the vote and becoming the first two-term governor of Delaware in 20 years.
During his second term, du Pont signed a landmark law that relaxed Delaware’s banking laws, including removing the cap on interest rates banks could charge customers. The Financial Center Development Act has made Delaware a haven for some of the nation’s largest credit card issuers.
Under Du Pont’s leadership, Delaware also implemented a non-profit employment counseling and placement program for Delaware high school students who are not destined for college. It served as a model for a national program adopted by several other states.
Du Pont is survived by his wife of over 60 years, the former Elise R. Wood; a daughter and three sons; and 10 grandchildren.
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a memorial service will be held at a later date, according to Bob Perkins, his former chief of staff.
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