As Rep. John Delaney sees it, politicians in Washington, D.C., are too focused on partisan debates and are failing to address the major issue of our time—a changing economy, spurred by technological innovations, that is displacing traditional jobs.
Delaney said Monday he plans to address the issue during his 2020 presidential campaign by focusing on retraining workers to align with growing fields that new technology is creating. Delaney launched his campaign last month, becoming the first established Democrat formally to do so.
President Donald Trump, a Republican who took office in January, already has been raising money to run for a second term.
Delaney, a Potomac resident in his third term representing Maryland’s 6th District in Congress, said the national labor issue is a main reason he chose to run for president rather than Maryland governor, a position he was considering.
“Partisanship has prevented the federal government from doing anything,” Delaney said in an interview with Bethesda Beat. “I think there’s a really high cost associated with doing nothing. Secondly, I think we’re having the wrong conversation at the federal level. We’re preoccupied with the past and the arguments are really not about the future.”
Delaney is well versed in business—he founded two Maryland financial companies, HealthCare Financial Partners and CapitalSource, which became public companies while he was leading them in the 90s and 2000s.
He said that outside the Beltway, Americans are concerned about the rapidly changing economy. Many communities lack the training needed to develop workers, so they can fill new jobs connected to the shifting economy, which is increasingly reliant on computers and automation.
He likened this period of change to historic periods of innovation that significantly altered the economy, such as after the introduction of trains and electricity.
“If you look at innovation historically—although some people think this time will be different—innovation across time has clearly produced more jobs than it has displaced,” Delaney, 54, said. “The issue is we’re very good at seeing the jobs that are being taken away, but we’re not good at looking around the corner to see the jobs being created. That’s the public policy challenge—how do you make sure the country broadly benefits from these jobs.”
Delaney wants to encourage the development of education and training programs giving people the skills they need to work in growing industries, such as advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and alternative energy generation.
He said the government and private sector must invest in communities that are struggling to create the programs.
Delaney said communities can work with growing businesses to create programs at high schools or community colleges dedicated to specialized skills needed for new types of jobs.
“I think my instincts are that the private market is kind of an amazing innovation and job producing machine,” Delaney said. “We want to work with the private economy and not be in opposition with it.”
In Maryland’s 6th District, which stretches from the Potomac suburbs and includes all of Western Maryland, Delaney said Montgomery College and Hagerstown Community College are working to offer these types of job training programs. He noted in particular the Hagerstown college’s partnership with Johns Hopkins University to create a new cybersecurity program as an example of training that can help a community shift its workforce to prepare for emerging fields in the new economy.
Whether Delaney, who is not well-known nationally or even in parts of Maryland, can gain traction with this message is yet to be seen.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Monday Delaney is the first candidate, to his knowledge, to seek a major party nomination so early in the campaign process. Delaney announced nearly three years before the Iowa caucuses—the first presidential primary election in the country.
“I think he’s well known in his district, but beyond that, unless you follow politics … I don’t know that he’s that well known,” Eberly said. “He has to introduce himself to his state and country.”
He was also skeptical as to whether Delaney can persuade Democratic primary voters.
“The pushback to Trump has really motivated the far-left activists in the Democratic Party,” Eberly said. “I suspect they’re only going to grow in strength and influence over the next few years. The idea of a multi-millionaire investment banker moderate is not going to inspire these Democrats in a primary.”
Eberly said Delaney likely would have had a better shot in the Maryland gubernatorial election in 2018 against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. He said Delaney could have helped the state’s Democratic Party attract independents and moderate Democrats who voted for Hogan in 2014. If the party nominates a progressive Democrat, it may help Hogan’s chances in the general election, Eberly said.
Delaney said part of the reason he launched his campaign so early was to be honest about his aspirations.
“There are other people running for president. They’re just not being honest about it,” Delaney said. “It’s early from the perspective of owning up to it.”
His early announcement, which came in an op-ed in The Washington Post a week ago, has generated national news coverage, which Eberly said may have helped Delaney gain name recognition.
He has also put forth a bill to allow companies to repatriate corporate earnings held outside the United States in exchange for buying bonds to pay for $750 billion in infrastructure improvements to construct transit projects, new roads and bridges, which has generated news coverage, but not moved forward in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Delaney would be the first sitting House member to be elected president since James A. Garfield in 1880.
The congressman said House members don’t pursue the presidency because many are professional politicians who must run for re-election every two years. He said it’s rare to have senators or governors run for president when they’re also up for re-election.
“I think I’m unusual in that I’m not a career politician,” Delaney said. “I believe that to do the things I think are important, I have to take a risk.”
But Delaney added that he won’t shirk his congressional responsivities while he runs for president. Instead he plans to use the time he would have spent on a re-election campaign to his House seat to run his national campaign.
He is establishing a budget he believes he’ll need for key state primaries in places such as Iowa and New Hampshire. He plans to raise money to meet the budget, which he wouldn’t reveal, but also supplement it with his own money as needed.
“If fundraising doesn’t match our budget … I will invest to make up the difference,” Delaney said.
Delaney is the second candidate Maryland candidate to run for president in the past four years. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley ran in the 2016 primary, but dropped out after receiving less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus.
Delaney plans to hire staff and establish an office in Iowa by the end of the year. Asked if he learned anything from O’Malley’s run, Delaney said, “I think we’re going to have a more robust campaign. I’m going to be in the race longer, have a different message and we will be resourced differently.”