Democratic congressional hopeful David Trone has sharpened his critique of state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), one of his primary rivals, calling the longtime lawmaker “a polarizing figure from the left” who would be unable to build coalitions with House Republicans.
Speaking to a breakfast gathering of Democrats at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring on Monday, Trone called Raskin “a good man” with whom he agrees on most issues — except the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Trone, who is co-founder of Total Wine & More, supports the trade agreement; Raskin says the pact lacks adequate protections for labor and the environment).
But Trone went on to accuse Raskin — who in recent internal polls has emerged as the leader in a crowded Democratic primary field — of being out of touch. Trone noted that Raskin has only one employee in his state senate office, while Trone’s national chain of 130 big box stores employs 5,000.
“You know what? I’d find it a little hard to connect with people and their problems, and whether they’re making 15 bucks an hour or $200,000, if you only have one employee and you’re not talking to people all the time. and you’re not working all around the country,” Trone said.
Raskin responded to the critique by recounting his legislative record, which includes passage of the Second Chance Act, designed to help those with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions return to the job market. Raskin co-sponsored the measure with Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick).
He also cited medical marijuana legislation, which he introduced with then-senator David Brinkley (R-Frederick), who, like Raskin, is a cancer survivor.
“The only thing bipartisan Mr. Trone has told us about his own forays into politics is more than $150,000 given to right-wing Republicans all over the country to buy what he calls ‘access,’ ” Raskin said in the email. “Look, I work with Republicans, I brainstorm with them, I negotiate with them, and I happen to like some of them a lot. But I don’t give them campaign money all over America to beat Democrats. . . . Bipartisan means you find principled common ground. It does not mean that you try to buy both parties.”
The exchange escalates the tensions that have been simmering between Raskin and Trone for the past couple of weeks, especially around Raskin’s vote for new congressional districts in 2011. During a debate at Hood College on Sunday, Trone called the map gerrymandering and “an abomination” that has fueled partisan polarization in Washington. He also dismissed Raskin’s proposed solution, a regional reapportionment compact with Virginia, as “silly.”
At his Monday meeting in Silver Spring, Trone mounted another defense of his campaign contributions to state-level Republican officials, including governors Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Greg Abbott of Texas.
He said the donations were intended to help encourage passage of a “narrow band” of consumer-friendly laws and regulations such as those allowing Sunday sales and wine tastings.
“Every single thing that Greg Abbott stands for, every single thing that Nikki Haley stands for, I disagree with, 100 percent disagree with,” Trone said. “It’s repulsive. It’s crazy. I think they’re nuts.”
But, he said, “if you don’t have a seat at the table” afforded by donations it is impossible to promote business interests. He was successful in South Carolina, he said, where he successfully sought approval for Sunday beer and wine sales.
“Nikki Haley had to sign that law,” Trone said. “And without access to Nikki Haley, explaining to her chief of staff directly why Sunday sales are good for the people of Charleston and Greenville, it doesn’t work.”
Trone said he hasn’t always been successful. He expressed frustration with his lobbying efforts in Maryland, where he has for years sought changes in regulations that allow an individual to hold just one liquor-sales license. The rule means Trone has only two stores in Maryland, one he owns, in Towson, and one owned by his brother, Robert, in Laurel.
“I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. . . . Every year, Mike says he’s going to help me,” Trone said, referring to Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). “And it doesn’t happen.”
Trone has contributed significantly more money to Democrats at the local and national levels than he has to state-level Republicans.