“This was the right time for me,” states David Trone, “I’ve always wanted to be in politics.”
It’s a sunny, warm day, and Trone and I are sitting in Jeannie Bird Café in Westminster. The café is packed with customers chatting and enjoying the first few days of spring.
With the opening of Chris Van Hollen’s House Seat in Maryland’s Eighth district, Trone has thrown himself into a contentious primary battle. His opponents include two state delegates, a state senator, a former Obama aide, and, most notably, Kathleen Matthews, wife of MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who has already been endorsed by two members of the Senate and EMILY’s List.
All are contending for a position that will afford them a great deal of power on a local, state and national level, in a seat that has been occupied by the same representative since 2003. However, as Van Hollen attempts a run for Senate, the gates are open for new blood to enter the mix.
Trone’s roots in the retail industry and spurning of Super-PACs in favor of self-financing and small money donations echo the anti-establishment tilt of the current presidential election.
“I’m taking no money from PACs, no money from lobbyists, and no money more than ten bucks,” says Trone, “I want to self finance it, and I’m lucky I can do that. My opponents say, ‘oh, that’s wrong, you’re spending a lot of money.’ Well actually it’s right. My opponents are spending three, four million dollars each, but they’re taking PAC money.”
On the money issue, however, Trone has been attacked by his opponents for his donations to Republican candidates, specifically Governor Greg Abbott of Texas. In a recent debate at Hood College, opponent and state senator Jamie Raskin stated “I wonder whether Mr. Trone would approach Governor Abbott…to see whether he’s doing anything about gerrymandering.”
It is roots in the sale of beer and liquor that have given him a great deal of real world experience in fighting entrenched interests.
After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he opened his first beer retailer in Harrisburg. He expanded into wine and spirits stores in 1991, and spread across the Mid-Atlantic, opening stores in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey; it was from this expansion that his company, Total Wine and More, was born.
The company will, by the end of the year, operate 150 stores in twenty-one states, and is the largest privately owned alcohol retailer in the country. But, Trone notes, this expansion was not without challenges.
“There’s a lot of entrenched interests in alcohol, because alcohol is the only product that has a constitutional amendment about it, actually two of them,” Trone notes, “and so alcohol is part of the old boy network, and they don’t like competition.”
It is this business mindset that he argues makes him a unique and qualified candidate for Congress. Trone emphasizes that he wants to reach across the aisle and get things done, and thinks that his pragmatism sets him apart from his competitors.
This revolt against old boy networks and cronyism is evident in Trone’s political policies. Along with his opposition to outside money in politics, Trone has taken a strong stance against gerrymandering, especially in the state of Maryland. He argues that this practice is one of the most notable causes of polarization in Congress.
“Maryland is one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country,” argues Trone, “Democrats are equally to blame with the Republicans, everyone’s to blame. It’s led to this, you know where everybody’s sitting on the extremes and no one’s talking to each other in the middle.”
Trone notes that this stance puts him at odds with a number of his competitors, specifically state representative Kumar Barve and state senator Jamie Raskin, both of whom have voted in favor of the Maryland gerrymandering scheme.
“The only solution is a national effort, you can’t do it by state. Every state wants to have their own gerrymandering deal, so we need a national program, totally non-partisan,” argues Trone.
On the issue of student debt, Trone is equally outspoken. He notes that the rise in student debt has not only hurt students, but is also, in a larger sense, extremely detrimental to the economy on the whole.
“When people can’t get out of college and get started in the work force, with this huge debt they have to delay a lot of decisions they’d like to make,” states Trone, “if one day you [they] want to buy a house, you want to get married, that costs money…you can’t do those things. So if you did those things, car, house, marriage, whatever, that feeds the economy, that drives economic activity.”
In response to this crisis, Trone has proposed a plan that offers students free college in return for five years of public service with the government. He argues that this combines the idea of affordable college with the concept of offering students employment out of college, which prepares them for the workforce. He has also advocated for affordable or free vocational school.
However, Trone has been skeptical of ideas such as tuition freezes, arguing that it serves as nothing more than a marketing tool, and only changes discount rates for future students as they enter.
The campaign has also been criticized for supposedly violating campaign sign requirements regarding a number of yard signs placed on public property and roadsides; such signs are supposed to only be placed on private property. Trone has chalked this up to inexperienced campaign workers, and has promised to rectify the issue.
Trone will compete for the nomination in the Maryland Primary on April 26, 2016.