Congressman David Trone was elected in 2018 to serve Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District. David serves on the House Appropriations and Veterans’ Affairs Committees and the Joint Economic Committee, where he is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders, including the opioid epidemic, criminal justice reform, mental health, and funding for medical research. David grew up on a chicken and hog farm with his mother, a school teacher, and his father, a WWII veteran and member of the U.S. Army Reserves. David earned a Bachelor’s degree from Furman University and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the Wharton School of Business by taking out student loans. David started Total Wine in 1991 and it grew into a business with more than 200 stores in over 27 states and 12,000 employees nationwide – 800 of whom are in Montgomery County, Maryland. David lives in Montgomery County with his wife June. They have four children: Michelle, Julie, Natalie, and Rob. The interview covers topics of success of Total Wine, helping Muslim community, passing of Infrastructure Law, addressing mental health problems in America, workforce development and agenda for next Congress.
Nagender Madavaram: Welcome Congressman Trone! You are the best example of American Dream. Can you explain your journey from agricultural farm to Wharton Business School?
David Trone: Well, thank you. We appreciate it very much. You know, it was quite a change, living on a farm my whole youth. So, at the age of 28 we had a 200-acre farm, hogs and chickens. One thing we learned about the farm was a great work ethic. I think, that really helped us be successful later on, both in business and then in politics down the road. Unfortunately, the farm went bankrupt due to my father’s challenges with alcoholism and some mistakes. The banks took the farm. They took our home. Later, I went to Wharton School of Business for Graduate program on student loans. While I was there, I sold eggs. I supported myself by marketing eggs on a telephone. It was just a payphone with a number of charges and I would be on the phone all the time selling eggs from Pennsylvania to Ohio to New York back and forth. I sold a dozen eggs for two cents. I transported loads of eggs on tractor trailer. I did that for about a year. Unfortunately, the main egg-layers over 7,000,000 got the Avian flu and died. I was out of business again. Luckily, I had started a small beer and soda soft drink retailer in Harrisburg, PA. I really had a good idea, sell things at cheap price. So, we had very low prices. That’s what drove people in the middle of the year. So, we could become the largest retailer of soft drinks and beer in the state of Pennsylvania because of the good prices. So, it was kind of a Walmart for the beer business.
Success of Total Wine:
Nagender Madavaram: Total Wine is operating 230 superstores across 27 states. Can you share your success story?
David Trone: Total Wine was started in Pennsylvania. The company was in Pennsylvania quite a while and then made the decision to look at another market. We decided to sell not just beer, but wine and spirits. We looked at Delaware in the 1st place. We went to Claymont, Delaware, Joe Biden’s hometown. We opened up a small store in Claymont. We sold wine, spirits, vodka, tequila and bourbon for very cheap. That success propelled us to a big store in Delaware and that store now is 65,000 square feet. It’s the biggest single store in the United States and it’s right off of I-95. After success in Delaware, I was able to slowly grow the company over 30 years, now we have 230 stores. This year, I’m going to build 18 new stores. We have 12,000 team members with sales of over 5.3 billion. So, we’re bigger than Costco and Kroger in the alcohol business and the largest wine and spirit retailer in the country. You know, that cultivated into a lot of philanthropy that we’ve been so lucky. We’re able to give back. My wife and I set up a foundation that sponsored projects in medical research, education, mental health and criminal justice to make life better for others.
Our community service convinced me to run for Congress because I’m not Bill Gates, I don’t have the billions that Bill Gates has and to do his philanthropy but we’ve done our part. As a Congressman, I can help things like addiction, around 107,000 people died last year with overdoses. My nephew was 24, he died of an overdose of fentanyl. So, everybody has lost people in this terrible addiction crisis. So, we’re in a mental health crisis in America. COVID exacerbated depression and anxiety in our children. We should only be thinking about our children who have been locked up at home without their friends in front of a computer screen. You and I can deal with that but it’s hard for the kids. Currently, we have a lot of depression and anxiety in our children. Now the numbers are almost 20% to 25% up across the country, so we’re going to focus on mental health. We’re going to fund on medical research. We are going to invest on our scientists and doctors. That’s what we’ve done with NIH. This year, we have given record funding. I am in the Appropriations Committee now. We allocated $49 billion in our budget for NIH. That’s a huge increase over 5 billion up from last year. So, it’s been a real journey from the farm to Total Wine in 27 states to philanthropy to public service.
Helping Muslim Community:
Nagender Madavaram: You are doing lot of philanthropy work. You paid legal fee for Muslim immigrants when President Trump harassed them.
David Trone: The Muslim community was called out by Trump and persecuted. I stepped up and made a point at my first public event after I won. Muslim community wanted to send the signal that diversity is what’s made America. We need more immigrants here in America because immigrants bring new ideas, creating millions of jobs. Hadn’t we had immigrants Google wouldn’t be created. Apple founded by the 2nd generation of immigrants. We also worked with Catholic Charities. My foundation donated couple of hundred thousands of dollars to Catholic Charities for three years. I helped Muslims to deal with the visa problems in Trump administration because he called out the Muslim community. We helped thousands of folks with the visa problems and we’re happy to do it.
Passing of Infrastructure Law:
Nagender Madavaram: Can you explain your efforts in passing bipartisan Infrastructure Law?
David Trone: I think that’s really important one. The bipartisan piece of legislation. We haven’t done a big infrastructure till now. The President Biden got it done. It’s $1.2 trillion bill for roads, bridges and one of the things I love about is the broadband. Every American gets 5G affordable broadband, no more than $30 a month. I mean, that’s going to transform rural America and our urban deserts that don’t have broadband. So, it’s going to make you can sit on the beach and you’ll be able to broadband for work, telehealth and consult doctor. It provides help to mental health, psychiatrist consultation and continuing education. I mean, it is awesome and fantastic that is going to help for people who don’t have the Internet right now. We’re lucky, we have it, but literally 10s of millions of Americans don’t have internet. That’s going to make it pretty special for them.
Addressing Mental Health Problems in America:
Nagender Madavaram: Around 30% of Marylanders are suffering from mental health related problems. What initiatives you proposed in the Congress?
David Trone: The mental health problems in America are just such a residue of COVID. So, we have a whole bunch of mental health bills that we put together. The President Biden has mentioned in his unity agenda. That’s bipartisan agenda. In his agenda, number one was addiction and number two was mental health. I put together and cochaired the bipartisan Mental Health and Addiction Task Force. We have 140 members of Congress on the task force. It’s pretty amazing that we have 70 bills, 15 of which we wrote may move forward. Many of them never gone through committees. We’ve had two bills, you know, signed by the President already. So, it’s really important to work, as a team in these areas. You know we have a new one’s going to be passed out of Energy and Commerce Committee soon. The bill addresses problems such as how addicts can get housing and where they can be safe.
We have another bill on behavioral health coordination, Communication Act where we coordinate all the federal agencies on mental health and addiction. We have a Family Support Act that’s already passed the House. It’s in the Senate now and that helps families how to deal with a loved one that’s addicted. So, a lot of different things. You know, this is Mental Health Awareness Month and you see I have a green ribbon today that is the celebration of the Mental Health Awareness Month. We have to remove the stigma when someone suffering from anxiety, depression and addiction. It’s going to be comfortable to say I need help. We’ve to realize this is a disease. Mental illness is a disease. They’re not failing and we need to feel them comfortable to ask for help. So, this is a crusade in Congress that affects all Americans White, Black and Brown by these two scourges that are hitting America right now.
Nagender Madavaram: Once you said that you moved your IT department to Florida because you did not find qualified workforce in Maryland. What action plan you suggest to create qualified workforce in MD since you are in Appropriations Committee?
David Trone: You’re absolutely right. Right now, we’ve got two jobs in the job market but only one worker is available. A couple of things we need to mention. We need more immigration; 2 million people are behind because of President Trump on immigration. So, the President Biden administration is focusing on moving immigration faster. Getting rid of the backlog and getting those immigrants to America. Training workforce is the next step. How do we get people trained? Especially things like IT and STEM. Montgomery College was part of last year’s Appropriation Committee allocations. Montgomery College need to train people to be programmers. We can work with industry when they get trained. So, it’s a seamless transition job. We have to bring government and private business together. That’s how we’re going to create a better country as we work together side by side.
The other act which we should mention is the America Competes Act. We pushed through Congress now and that’s going to get us our chip manufacturing facilities in the US. Inflation has been driving prices up on so many things. We only made 17% of our chips and 42% are in Taiwan. We need to be self-sufficient on chips. Things like defense, health care products we make them here in America and they may cost 5 or 10 bucks more. We know it’s going to be here and remember how hard it was to find n95 mask when COVID hit. We made them all in China and we saved a dollar. You know, we have to make them in America and we may not save a dollar but they are available when we need them. Same with ventilators and all the other things. It’s going to help us compete with China on chips and in so many other areas.
Agenda for Next Congress:
Nagender Madavaram: Can you tell us what did you achieve in US Congress and what are your agenda items for next Congress?
David Trone: Well, my goals are really very consistent. What I said when I first ran for office was these are the things you’re going to think about. We’re on the same mission for the last three years and we haven’t beaten the addiction crisis in America, 107,000 people died. We haven’t beaten the mental health crisis in America. We have so much more to do with medical research. We get good returns on our investments on the NIH medical research. We need scientists. We need smart people. We also need immigration. So, there are so many smart people all over the world and we want them here. We’re going to keep working on those issues.
The fact that it is my second term. I’m on the appropriations, the most powerful committee in the Congress. Speaker Pelosi said David, it took me 5 terms to get here. I said, Madam Speaker with respect, I don’t want to wait for five terms. I’m a business person. I work across the aisle. All I care about getting stuff done. It’s all we care about and working with others across the aisle. So, I got there in my second serving term, and that’s great. So now we have more power to help people and move things in a better direction. So, we’re going to focus about doing things for the folks who don’t have a voice. These are people that are powerless. How can we help them? Very often, Washington thinks short term solution, that’s a bad idea. Short term just about today. Every decision we make should be about your children and their children and my children and their children and we think long term. We want to do it right way and what’s right is often harder but we do. We do because it is hard and that’s why we do it. These are hard problems but we’re going to keep working and slowly make progress.
I appreciate you taking the time today and talking with us. You know, it is more opportunity to talk to folks through things like your portal is fantastic. People that just forget to see who I am, my values, what I care about, what I’m going and why I came here. I didn’t need a job. I definitely did not need a job. My business was more fun than politics but here we can help people in a big way. That’s what we’re here and I think it’s the right reason to be here and we need more people from business in politics. We don’t need career politicians. We need business people, scientists, people like that value science in government and that would give us a better government.