Senate hopefuls heat up race at steamy Democratic picnic

Senate hopefuls heat up race at steamy Democratic picnic

U.S. Rep. David Trone, left, a candidate for U.S. Senate, talks to David Marker at a Democratic picnic in Columbia on Monday. Maryland Reporter photo by Len Lazarick

The race to succeed Ben Cardin in the U.S. Senate next year may not have heated up for the average voter. But three of the Democratic hopefuls for the job were sweating it out at a steamy Democratic Labor Day picnic in Columbia Monday.

U.S. Rep. David Trone, Montgomery County Council Member Will Jawando and a new face in the race, Juan Dominguez, worked the tables, chatting with more than a hundred party activists and elected officials.

There was no sign at all of the other major candidate in the contest, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

The primary is eight months away next May 14, but Trone, the 6th District congressman, has already spent a chunk of his personal millions on staff, mailers to Democratic voters and TV ads. The founder of Total Wine and More dealt with his business success and wealth up front in a six-minute speech that closed an almost hour-long program of politico talk on a sweltering day.

Here is the bulk of his speech, followed by the speeches from Jawando and Dominguez.

David Trone speech: 

“I’m a fighter all my life. I’m a disrupter. I’m a change agent and I changed the industry which I operate in across the United States.

And I’ve been lucky. I’ve been lucky to get where I am. I didn’t start wealthy. I’m criticized for being wealthy — wealthy means you’ve been successful. It’s probably a good thing. Wealthy probably means you had to get something done.

I started when I was 11 years old on a farm. We had an outhouse. It was cold in the winter. We didn’t have a lot. I went back, worked for my dad after I finished undergraduate. And at 28, unfortunately, we went bankrupt. My father was bankrupt. He was an abusive alcoholic. It was not pleasant. I lived through that. It destroyed my family.

We lost our home. We lost our jobs. I wanted to take care of my mother and the other younger siblings and start over. He went his way. Four years later I brought him back. I got him through a rehab program. I got him clean, and he worked for me. That’s what you do with family.

So we didn’t start with a lot. I built my first store a long time ago back in 1984 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a total bootstrap operation. We fought to change an industry. We changed the alcohol industry in the United States. We have 12,000 team members of my company now operating in 28 states. We did $6 billion in sales last year. I understand business inside out.

We do need to raise those corporate tax rates. The corporate tax rate went from 35% to 21%. That’s the rate that cost us $200 billion every year in lost revenue. Blame Donald Trump for that because he did that.

Change needed

“Lots of changes needs to happen, lots of change. But we need someone who can get stuff done. That’s why we’re running — on getting stuff over the finish line.

I took this job in Congress three times now because I’m fed up. I’m fed up that we’ve lost a million people to overdoses. We’re now losing over 110,000 each of the last two years. My nephew’s dead. My family suffered with addiction. My family suffered with mental health. I understand those areas because I’ve lived that, and I’m fed up that we can’t do better.

These are things all Americans should want. White, black, brown, Republican, Democrat. Who doesn’t want equivalency for mental health? We all want those things. So I lead Congress now on those issues. I stay focused on what is personal to me, what I am passionate about.

And when I go to the Senate to fight because we need 60 votes in the Senate every time we get something through the House. Hakeem Jeffries will be the next speaker. We’re taking the House back in 2024. There’s no doubt about that. [Applause.]

I’ve been successful. So now I have a chance to give back. So we focus on addiction, mental health and the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. We move from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration. 2.4 million people in prison. When they come out without a job, 75% go back to prison. Is that acceptable to you? No, to none of us. If they have work, only 8% go back. My company’s hired 1400 returning citizens in the last seven years. My company ‘banned the box’ 20 years ago – the box where they have to put on an application they’ve been arrested. So we could give folks a second chance because everyone deserves a second chance.

We gave partners same-sex benefits 20 years ago so LGBTQ partners could have the health care they deserve. [Applause]

As far as labor goes, I’m a business guy. I understand the value of people. My voting record in Congress is 100% pro-Labor, I score 100%.

In our company, we have 75% full-time employees. Why full time? In retail, it’s 25% normally. We’re 75%. That way folks who make more money have health care, have disability, have a retirement, take vacations and see upward mobility. And you have better people. If you have better people, you win. It’s that simple. It’s about better people.

And that’s what Labor Day is about. Labor Day is about recognizing it, honoring all the workers across this country, because the success all of us have had in this room is because of our people, all of our people. I’m very thankful for that. I’m also thankful we have such a great president, President Biden, who’s been the best friend of labor. Ever.

Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando. Screen shot from a campaign video

Will Jawando speech

It’s a good time to be a Democrat, and it’s never been more important. But as Congressman Sarbanes said, without you, this is Labor Day, right? I just talked to a group of educators. If you’re an educator, raise your hand. Let’s give our educators some love. And then we have some from union. I saw some AFGE. If you’re a federal government worker, raise your hand.

It’s important right now to recommit to labor. The average American can’t find $500 in an emergency. Wages haven’t grown commensurate with the cost of everything. When was the last time you bought an egg? Yesterday? It was expensive. We have to support labor and double down with them.

I’m proud in my current job to have introduced the prevailing wage bill that pays our folks who work on schools and government buildings and other things an actual living wage. That bill is about to pass in Anne Arundel County and we’re going to be pushing it around the state. [Applause]

On September 19th, I’m going to introduce a bill to end the tip minimum wage. If you didn’t know, service workers make less than $4 an hour here in Maryland. It’s a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow because they didn’t have to pay the servers at that time. We’re going to end that. Seven states have ended it.. We need to end it here in Montgomery County. We need to end it in the state of Maryland. Let’s end that so everyone can have a living wage.

I introduced the first guaranteed income program in the state of Maryland. Why is that important? We have 300 families that are getting $800 a month to meet their basic needs. I recently met with 100 of those families. One mom is using it to pay her $600 minivan payment to take her kids to afterschool programs. The teachers here know, the educators know that the hours from 3 to 7 are the most important for our kids to be on track and have something to do. We need to pass that in the state and at the federal government level.

We need affordable housing. Any renters in the house? Alright, a couple of renters. For the first 20 years of my life, I grew up in Langley Park in a poorly maintained rental housing unit. We bounced around based on affordability. We just passed the first rent stabilization bill that is permanent in Maryland, the first in any Maryland county. That was my bill. We stabilized rents now. Renters won’t have anything going over 6%. That’s good for working families. [Applause]

I bring up all these things because this next Senate seat is a unique opportunity for us. Maryland deserves a senator who’s going to fight special interests, who’s going to fight development. The developers fought tooth and nail. Who’s going to fight to maintain and expand union rights? Who’s going to fight big Pharma and big tech and big oil?

That’s what we need to send from the state of Maryland. I spent eight years working on Capitol Hill for Nancy Pelosi, for Barack Obama, for Sherrod Brown, and then four years in the Obama White House before my two terms on the county council. I have the most federal experience of anyone in this race, and all the staff members are here to tell you: The staff do all the work.

It’s a critical time in our history. I reject the lie that for my neighbor to do well, you have to do worse. That’s not true. We can all do well together. Here we are in Howard County. One of the top ten wealthiest counties in the United States of America. Montgomery, where I am. We’re in the top 50. It’s unconscionable that we have homelessness on the rise. It’s unconscionable that we have people that need mental health and substance abuse benefits. It’s unconscionable that health care isn’t a human right for every person and that people can’t afford housing. We don’t have to have those things.

We need someone in the Senate that can push for that at the federal level. We need a civil rights lawyer who grew up low-income in Montgomery County, the son of a farm-born mom in Kansas and a Nigerian dad who came here fleeing civil war in Nigeria and someone who grew up on a farm in Kansas. I think I got a good, good understanding of America. And I grew up in Langley Park here in Maryland.

This is a unique opportunity. Last thing I’ll say, 250,000 people voted for me in November. Montgomery County has 1.1 million and there are 6 million in the state. I got the most votes of anyone in this race, in the most diverse county in the state. This is time to send a young, bold progressive to the Senate. I’ll be 41 in January. We make up 25% of the population. You know how many senators are millennials? One. John Ossoff [Georgia Democrat]. We need younger people in the Senate. We need people who can deal with tech and the changing nature of our economy and who know how to do that.

But most importantly, we need a fighter who’s done stuff at the local level. I passed the first criminal justice reform bill in our state’s history, banned chokeholds, raised the level of when deadly force can be used to reasonable and necessary. The state used it as a model for their bill. That’s what we need in the Senate right now.

So you got some good choices [for the Senate]. I’d argue that I’m the best.. Let’s take our time. This is a lifetime appointment. Whoever gets the seat will be there for 20, 30 years, God willing. So let’s send a fighter to the Senate to push for those basic needs for our residents here in Howard County and across our state.

Juan Dominguez. Photo from his campaign website

Juan Dominguez

I want to thank the Howard County Democrats for having me today. The first organization that’s actually allowed me to speak. So thank you for that. The Latino Progressive Club of Prince George’s County, who strikingly and surprisingly enough, is trying to keep me off the debate stage, the only Latino in the race.

I’m a West Point graduate, a Gulf War veteran. Second generation Cuban American. I fought for you during the Gulf War, and it’s my honor to declare myself a Senate candidate and fight for you. I’m just like you, ladies and gentlemen. I’m a regular person. I’m a dad. I coach my son’s baseball team. I think that we need more people like me in Congress that are regular citizens, that are close to our challenges and that know the struggles that many of you go through on a regular basis. Our campaign is going to be about hope, courage and change that only us people united together can truly break. I’m going to focus on kitchen sink issues.

Let me tell you a few stories. Over the last 50 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from you to the top 1% in this country. By all accounts, at least $25 trillion. And the special interests and the ultra-wealthy have taken from you and put it into their pocket. And you have done all the work. The top three wealthiest Americans have more wealth than 50% of the bottom of America. To me, that may not be criminal, but it’s morally wrong.

Let me give you a quick stat about CEOs of publicly traded companies, many of whom donate to establishment candidates. In today’s dollars, in 1950, an average worker made $30,000. The CEO made $600,000. In today’s dollars, that same $30,000 worker, what do you think the average CEO makes just in salary? What do you think? $1 million? $ 2 million? $10 million a year. While an average worker makes $30,000 a year. And that is at or below the poverty rate.

The establishment candidates cannot help you. They cannot help you. They are beholden to the PACs and the super PACs. They will tell you that the Republicans won’t help them. Well, I’ll tell you what. This is a people’s movement. And together, we can drive change together. The power is in this room to drive change.  You just have to believe.

When we win we will demand taxes of 70% on the first dollar over $5 million. That’s how it was 50 years ago. The highest tax rate was 90%. We didn’t have crumbling bridges. We didn’t have crumbling infrastructure, and we didn’t have people struggling to pay their rent. We will demand a wealth tax of 5% on those that have $10 million assets or more every year. And we will start to claw back those trillions of dollars that stayed in the ultra-wealthy pockets at your expense. Back to you.

That’s how we’re going to pay for my three kitchen sink issues. A living wage for all Americans. Health care from cradle to grave and debt free college and state public universities. Because when we take those trillions of dollars back and give them back to the people. You’re going to have to rely less on Washington, D.C.. You’re going to have to rely less on career politicians and you will take the power back.

I hope that you will follow me on Facebook. I hope that you will contribute to our cause. Join our movement. I guarantee you that on May 14, we’re going to shock the political establishment. With your help, they may not know who we are today, but they’re going to know who we are over the next nine months. So I want to thank you. We’re going to deliver to the middle class, the working class, the working poor, those at or below the poverty line. With change coming from people like you in this room. God bless you. God bless Maryland and God bless America.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

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