Freshman House Democrat David J. Trone’s 21-point general election victory over Republican challenger Amie Hoeber was a combination of opportune timing, strategic planning, a mountain of cash and partisan gerrymandering.
The businessman-turned-politician to his credit swatted back a Democratic primary challenge from a number of formidable Democratic opponents, including a popular female state delegate, a pediatrician and author and a progressive, union-endorsed state senator.
While the political climate was most advantageous for a candidate like Trone – arguably a moderate-leaning Democrat – to fill the seat of another political outsider and businessman-turned-politician, John Delaney – in a congressional district home to tens of thousands of Trump-loving Republicans, a cakewalk it was not for the former Total Wine & More executive.
Trone announced last year in late August that he was diagnosed with cancer and was being treated with chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A noticeably thinner and balding Trone in October announced that he was cancer-free and down a kidney.
Despite overcoming his physical prognosis and winning the seat by an astounding margin, questions lingered, and some still do, about who Trone truly is, and what he hopes to accomplish in office.
After spending nearly thirty million dollars on two back-to-back congressional races, why does a man of means like Trone want to be a congressman? He doesn’t ‘need’ to be a congressman, some district residents, Democrats included, espouse regularly.
What does Trone really want to do? What is it that he’s after? And what kind of congressman will he be?
So far, it seems, a pretty damn good one, if you ask around.
During Trone’s 2018 congressional campaign, he promised to highlight the importance of Western Maryland.
Thus far, he’s delivered on that promise.
“We’ve been focused on Western Maryland since day one,” Trone said this past weekend at the annual Western Maryland Democratic Summit, held at Rocky Gap Casino Resort in the picturesque Allegany County.
On Friday, Trone opened his third congressional district – a first for the 6th District – in Cumberland. He is soon expected to open his fourth office in Frederick. (Trone also has district offices in Gaithersburg and Hagerstown.)
A businessman at heart, Trone is well acquainted with organizational theory and the art of perfecting human resources.
“The most important thing in Washington and in anything you do is getting the right people,” Trone said during his Summit keynote address.
“My focus has been hiring a great team. If we have a great team, we can get a lot of things done.”
Trone announced last December that he hired Capitol Hill veteran staffer Andy Flick as his chief of staff. Flick, whose reputation is praised by fellow Hill staffers, is well-suited to the 6th district, having served other moderate-leaning, Blue Dog congressmen.
In addition to employing Flick, Trone retained Sonny Holding, a longtime Delaney staffer and a well-known face in Western Maryland, as his district director, a choice praised across-the-board.
Back to Trone’s roots in business, he seemingly understands that customer service reigns supreme.
His focus since his election has been answering over 10,000 constituent requests – from employment and business development to immigration issues to veterans’ concerns – he says.
The more polished Trone, who is much improved on the stump over the last six to eight months, on Saturday summed up his congressional responsibilities almost in a brand-like fashion: policy and the district.
“We’ve got to get the district stuff right first,” Trone said. “Then we can think about and move onto policy.”
There is no question that Trone has spent significant time getting to his district, especially Western Maryland.
In March, Trone hosted a workshop for senior citizens that saw over 350 people in attendance. He’s toured Fort Detrick in Frederick County and visited Regional Medical Centers in Allegany and Garrett Counties.
Still reeling from the personal tragedy of losing his nephew, Trone made opioid addiction a top policy priority.
Last month, Trone was joined by Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford (R) in Hagerstown to host a “workshop focused on ending the opioid epidemic.
In a bipartisan effort, Trone and several of his congressional colleagues introduced legislation that would provide $5 billion in funding over five years to fight the opioid epidemic in virtually every community in America.
“This is money that will flow through to the individual counties for unique and different programs. This is not one size fits all,” Trone explained while addressing Democrats this Saturday.
After it was announced last week that the 131-year-old Allegany County Luke paper mill would close its doors on June 30, a crippling blow for Western Marylanders and other surrounding counties, losing nearly 675 jobs, Trone, alongside other federal and county officials, on Saturday met with Luke Mayor Ed Clemons, Jr. to discuss the plant’s impending closure.
Trone last week told The Baltimore Sun that he is working with federal, state and local officials to “support the plant’s employees and is ‘holding the company’s feet to the fire’ to ensure it treats the workers fairly.
“I have a call set up on Monday with the CEO…But we need to understand how we can take sixty days and just say ‘we’re closing a plant without talking to the community and talking with labor,” Trone told Democratic attendees during his keynote Summit address.
Nearing the end of his nearly 20-minute Saturday speech, Trone, while stressing the virtue of civility, did not hold back against the current occupant of the White House, tossing out his own version of political red meat to the nearly 200 attendees, directing a collective and common ire at the president.
“And of course, the most important thing is, we got to get that son of a bitch out of there,” referring to the 2020 presidential race.
Trone concluded his prime-time Summit address urging his fellow Democrats not to take “pot-shots” at the 21-person (and growing) field of Democratic presidential contenders. He urged Democrats to maintain unity throughout the process.
“We’ve got to talk about issues. We can disagree on the issues. We’ve got to be respectful because if we take a pot shot at each other’s candidates, we give the Republicans the Trump fodder. And we can’t give them any ammunition. So we need to have a civil, intelligent, thoughtful discourse on the issues.”
A promising start to a congressional career, no doubt – but uncertainty remains for Trone’s future.
The United States Supreme Court in June could hand down a landmark decision that decides the fate of the 6th District’s congressional lines.
In March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to end the practice of drawing partisan congressional districts, brought forth by a group of Western Maryland Republicans who say the current congressional lines violate their First Amendment rights.
Trone favors a national solution to gerrymandering.
Should the Court decide in favor of the plaintiffs, the 6th District lines could be redrawn by the 2020 election to favor a Republican returning to the seat that was once held by longtime Republican Rep. Roscoe Barlett until 2013.
Nevertheless, Trone isn’t taking the district for granted.
If Trone’s next sixth months in office mirror the first, the wine mogul-turned-congressman may face promising re-election prospects.