When I Met Beau Biden

For those of you not from Delaware, or who don’t follow the news, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, who had the same name but was called “Beau” to distinguish himself from his father, passed away yesterday at the age of 46.

Whereas his father is known for being bombastic and outspoken, Beau was more reserved and cordial. I actually met Beau, and given who he was and how he affected my job responsibilities, I want to use my blog to share a few thoughts about him.

As Delaware’s Attorney General, he made government accountability a staple of his administration. As Caesar Rodney Institute is, at its core, a government accountability and transparency advocate, it was important to us to use Delaware’s FOIA laws to access information. In news which will not shock the world, some of Delaware’s state agencies made turning over information at our request tedious and painful, or cited reasons they weren’t going to. Beau, however, affirmed CRI’s right to obtain the information we requested, and in the years before I came to CRI, helped us get the information we wanted, with a phone call from his office to the agency in question.

In 2011, Beau made it clear to CRI the AG’s office would support CRI in our public records request if any state agency tried to prevent the release of any information we requested under our rights under Delaware’s FOIA law. This support helped me personally, because I utilized Delaware’s FOIA law several times while Beau was in the AG’s office.

Knowing that Beau would side with CRI over state agencies when it came to the majority of open records requests made my job easier and on one occasion I did call his office to report an issue and someone (not him, but in his office) spoke to the agency in question’s representatives and reminded them of his support for our rights. This came despite us generally being at political odds with one another. I sincerely mean it when I say that knowing we had Beau’s support for these public records made doing my job easier.  I felt confident during the roughly two and a half years he was AG that I was able to submit FOIA request and have his office on speed-dial (not literally, but you get the idea) should any agency give me an unnecessarily hard time. This kind of respect for the public’s right to know is important for government accountability.

The first time, and the only time, I actually spoke to him was in 2013 when my then-boss sent me on a mission to the University and Whist Club in Wilmington where he was speaking at a public event about, fittingly, Freedom of Information Act requests. Some Delaware-based reporters and nonprofits were unhappy by how certain agencies were moving in responding to these requests, and Beau had a roughly 40 minute Q&A presentation about how he respected journalism and organizations like CRI (He did not mention us by name) who are involved in holding government accountable to the public, and he said he wanted to be that bridge between the government agencies and the people they serve. I filmed him from the side of the room, and one several occasions he looked like he was afraid of ruining my shot even though it was he I was filming.

After he was done talking and the room broke out into multitudes of conversations, he came by to ask who I was and where I was from. Knowing him only by reputation, I introduced myself, wondering if Beau, upon hearing the name of the Caesar Rodney Institute (which liberals generally do not like), would awkwardly shake my hand and hastily move on. Instead, he shook my hand with confidence, and we talked for maybe half a minute about what I was doing and I told him I appreciated his office’s efforts to support FOIA requests. He thanked me for my words and said he was happy to help any organization which was just “trying to do your jobs serving the public”. Yes, I know it was not some epic words we said to each other, but it still was cool for the younger me to be able to talk to a high-ranked elected official, and the son of a Vice President, at a public forum where he was relatively unprotected and was candid about walking around and speaking to people.

I will conclude by saying I actually liked Beau, to the extent I knew him or dealt with his office. He was taken from the world tragically too soon, and at this time I offer my condolences to the Biden family and wish them well.

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