The juicy gossip from the Western Maryland Democratic Summit, Part I

By Ryan Miner 

Hundreds of Maryland Democrats descended upon the picturesque Rocky Gap Casino Resort this past weekend for the 2017 Western Maryland Democratic Summit. Cautiously energized but equally concerned about its political future after a demoralizing November general election sneak ambush by Donald Trump, a tangible and promising optimism was shared among the more than 250 attendees.

Kim and I arrived in Cumberland late afternoon on Friday after confronting the bustling traffic that invariably causes most traveling motorists to curse loudly on Friday afternoons – usually beginning around 2:30 p.m. I don’t care who is elected to Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District in 2018 – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Pissed Off – priority one should be remedying the daily traffic mess that is rush-hour I-270. Please. I beg you.

I humbly admit that I am a fair-to-mediocre conversationalist at awkward political “networking” events. We’ve all been there. I can walk up and talk to people without some political official leaning over to his or her staff, muttering, “Keep that guy off our email list.” Political networking events are much better after a few G&T’s. Kim and I sat at the bar for about an hour before walking into unchartered waters. After all, like the fictionally famous Hester Prynne, we too had the scarlet letters: Ah, yes, the curse of being some of the lone Republicans at a Democratic event. Not to worry, however! We were welcomed with open arms and were warmly embraced by the summit attendees.

I need not go into the content of the Saturday political oo-rah speeches. Rather, I’ll tell you about the conversations I had with some of the aspiring political candidates during the Friday-night networking event. I promise you this part of the story – the gossip – is what you’ve been waiting to read. Or not.

My #Demsummit2017 coverage will split into a two-part series: Part I will begin with detailing my conversations with some of the possible CD-6 candidates. Part II of this article will highlight my conversations with the potential gubernatorial candidates.

First up – David Trone.

I had never met Trone before Friday night. I’ve heard mixed reviews from various involved politicos in Montgomery County. It’s true that I’ve been somewhat critical of Trone’s Johnny-come-lately grandiose entrance into last year’s CD-8 Democratic primary. I was also quite critical of Trone’s sign placements throughout the 8th congressional district. I don’t begrudge Trone for spending his own hard-earned fortune in the CD-8 primary; however, I did and still do question why he waited so long to jump into a race and then decide to saturate the airways with television and radio ads that seemed to go on in perpetuity.

I found Trone in the room. I walked up to him, extended my hand and introduced myself and Kim. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who completely ignores all of his or her surroundings and turns their entire focus on you? I have only a few times. That’s David Trone. He looks you right in the eye, gets up close, speaks earnestly and backs off to hear what you are saying; then he responds. Trone is a natural charmer. I brought up the fact that I appreciate his stance on criminal justice reform issues, and we talked about our mutual disdain for Trump.

I asked him two questions that I wasn’t prepared to leave until I had an answer: 1) What are your political plans for 2018 and 2) In 2016, did John Delaney support your bid for Congress in CD-8.

Trone gracefully responded. Here’s what he told me:

1) In 2016, unequivocally, he claimed, John Delaney supported his race for CD-8 over the other Democratic candidates and 2) Depending on whether John Delaney pulls the trigger on a gubernatorial bid, Trone is a candidate-in-waiting for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

It’s still widely rumored that Trone is considering a bid for Montgomery County executive, much to the chagrin of some of the already-declared county executive candidates. But given the growing movement behind a Delaney gubernatorial bid, it appears for now that Trone’s political future hinges almost entirely on one man – John Delaney.

Trone and I exchanged cards, shook hands and continued on with our mingling. One notable incidental exchange: Trone was accompanied – actually, quite adjoined at the hip – on Friday evening by his pollster, Harrison Hickman, whom he introduced as, “Hi, this is my pollster, Harrison.” Mr. Hickman seems like a nice guy and exactly what you would think of when thinking about what a pollster might appear to be.

Next up on the conversation docket: Roger Manno.

I had never actually met the District 19 state senator until that evening when I extended my hand and introduced myself. Roger Manno certainly looks exactly how Hollywood would depict a United States congressman. If you have never heard Manno speak, you are missing out; his background and childhood struggles are compelling anecdotes.

I asked Manno point-blank if he was ready to say on-the-record that he is considering a bid for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. I didn’t get the answer that I wanted; Manno responded cautiously, “I’m not ready to have that conversation.” Fair enough, Senator. I respect political prudence. Manno and I finished our conversation by sharing stories about our mutual love for New Hampshire and the great outdoors.

My takeaway after meeting Manno: He’s running for Congress, and his background plus his narrative will be a useful and formidable tool in his strategy department.

One gripe that I have about Manno is this: He called me “buddy.” It’s a personal preference, I guess, but as a grown 31-year-old man, there is nothing more patronizing than being called “buddy” or “pal” or ugh, wait for it, “sport” by a sitting state senator/congressman-in-waiting. Maybe I sound too elitist? I probably do, in fact! Manno, of course, seems like a truly decent man. He meant no disrespect, but it’s a thing with me. Should I care? Absolutely not. Do I care more about his agenda for CD-6? 100% yes. Do I think Manno would make a great congressman? To be decided.

Next up: Tony Puca

Ah, Tony. I’ve known Tony substantially longer than the rest of the looming CD-6 Democratic candidates. Last year during the CD-6 primary, Tony, Kim and I shared a memorable chat at the Kentlands Panera Bread over coffee and fresh lobster rolls (yes, lobster rolls at Panera Bread!). While Tony and I share many political disagreements, I easily and quickly recognize and respect the years of service Tony has put into the Democratic Party, working on behalf of progressive causes. There is no one that I know who is more dedicated to uniting the Democratic Party’s factions together and pushing for a progressive future than Tony Puca.

Tony ran and lost against John Delaney in the 2016 CD-6 Democratic primary. To be kind, he lost by significant numbers, but he dared to take on Rep. Delaney in what transpired into another Hillary versus Bernie race at the local level. Puca is a committed Sanders supporter and will likely be in the Ben Jealous for governor camp when Mr. Jealous officially announces his Maryland gubernatorial bid.

Whether Tony runs for Congress again in 2018 (he actually ran in the early 90’s against former Democratic Congresswoman Beverly Byron and was defeated in a Democratic primary) or if he runs for a Montgomery County Council seat, his heart will undoubtedly be in the race for all the reasons that make a decent and humble elected official.

Next up: Majority Leader Bill Frick.

Yes, the boy wonder of Maryland politics. (I write this endearingly.) The rising star of the Maryland General Assembly. Bill Frick reminds me of a couple of people: 1) A Kennedy (not Ted) without the distinct Kennedy Boston accent and 2) Tom Cruise’s A Few Good Men character, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee. Bill Frick didn’t berate me for ordering “the code red.”

I didn’t see Frick around for the Friday networking event, but I had a few opportunities to speak with him on Saturday morning and afternoon. Of the possible CD-6 Democratic candidates running, Frick is clearly the most committed of the pack, ready and eager to jump into the race when Delaney pulls the proverbial trigger on a gubernatorial bid. Frick connects well with people, and I appreciate that he’s working handily with my dear friend, Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller, on developing heroin treatment facilities for Hagerstown. I see Frick’s base of support building in places like the City of Hagerstown, Frederick City and within vast portions of urban Montgomery County. I also see Frick competing against Manno for the same voters.

Frick’s Saturday speech electrified the room. Much like Manno, he connected well with the audience, including me. He did, however, take some notable and, in my opinion, unnecessary swipes at Gov. Hogan. But I had to remind myself that I’m still the Republican in the room and as much as I like, respect and generally agree with Gov. Hogan’s agenda, the Democratic Summit attendees do not share my adulation for our current governor. And apparently, neither does Majority Leader Frick.

Next up: Aruna Miller

Delegate Miller (District 15) is my delegate (I live in North Potomac) and I write this without any equivocation: Aruna Miller’s constituent services should be the model for the rest of Maryland’s General Assembly. Last year, I had a Maryland legal question that needed to be answered. Delegate Miller’s legislative office worked for nearly a month to lock down an opinion from the Maryland attorney general’s office. Del. Miller picked up the phone and called me; we spoke for nearly a half-hour. Her commitment to constituent services won me over on that day.

Miller has been somewhat hesitant to commit to a run for Congress in CD-6, but if she does decide to jump into what appears to be a crowded jungle, she will no doubt showcase her progressive credentials. In the era of Trump, when every day, most of the country wakes up dazed and confused as to how the hell this experiment gone wrong could have happened, there is no better person than Aruna Miller to tell her story of what America means to her and her family. Of the CD-6 candidates who spoke at the summit, it is my opinion that there was no one who offered a more seething indictment of the Trump Administration than Aruna Miller. I tip my hat to her.

Next up: Andrew Duck.

I did not have much of an opportunity to speak with Mr. Duck except in passing. I had reached out to him via Facebook to sit down and chat about his candidacy. I look forward to my meeting with Duck and am eager to hear his congressional platform.

As written above, Part II will cover my exchanges with some of the Maryland Democratic candidates running for governor in 2018. Stay tuned!

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