Since 2013, Rep. John Delaney has represented Maryland’s 6th District from a seat widely believed to have been gerrymandered to benefit a different Democrat. Yet Delaney is the sponsor of a bill that would reform congressional redistricting nationwide — a potential solution to a system he said creates intractable party-or-nothing division in the U.S. Congress.
Delaney said gerrymandered “safe” districts have left many Congress feeling compelled to appeal to only one party or another. That has “left the country polarized,” he said. “It’s also left a lot of Americans feeling like they have no home in either of these parties.”
The 6th District could be considered the most competitive in Maryland.
While the 1st District is weighted toward Republican voters, all of the seven remaining districts favor Democrats, sometimes by as much as 4-to-1 in enrollment, according to the latest report from the Maryland Board of Elections.
Voter enrollment in the 6th also favors Democrats, but far less so.
In this year’s April primary, about 45 percent of eligible active voters in the district were Democrats, compared with 33 percent who were enrolled Republican.
In an era of partisanship, 64 percent of Delaney’s 11 bills and resolutions had both a Democratic co-sponsor and a Republican co-sponsor in 2015 and he ranked third-highest among House Democrats in terms of writing bipartisan bills in 2015, according to GovTrack.
An analysis published by The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, considered Delaney one of 137 bipartisan lawmakers in the House chamber. He ranked 74th among the 438 members of the House in terms of bipartisanship, far higher than any other House member from Maryland.
Delaney said there’s an easy explanation.
He came to politics — or public service, as he considers it — by way of business.
“Political party was never that relevant to me in my prior life. I mean, I was a Democrat and I did things to help my party, but in business, you don’t think about politics,” he said. “You get to know people and you value them based on their integrity, their ethics, their talent. I had extensive business relationships with people for 10 years, traveled with them, knew their family, and I would never talk about politics.”
Delaney met his future wife, April McClain-Delaney, during law school at Georgetown University. They now have four daughters, ages 9 to 23.
About a year after he graduated from Georgetown University’s law school, he opened his first business — a financial investment firm that financed small to mid-sized health care companies — with two classmates. That company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1996, and Delaney sold his stake a couple of years later.
He then opened a second company that financed small businesses. That company became publicly traded in 2003 and he ran it until he decided to run for office and was first elected in 2012.
McClain-Delaney is one of the founders and board members of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that promotes safe technology and media for children.
Delaney said it was his family’s work through that organization and others that drove him to consider a run for office — something he considers a collaborative effort among the whole family.
“We started to think about ways to go deeper in what I’ll call public service and that led to my decision to run for Congress in 2012,” Delaney said.
Delaney said he believed that his business background would be “additive” to lawmaking in the halls of Congress.
He serves on the House Committee on Financial Services, the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and on the Joint Economic Committee.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, the top five contributors to Delaney’s campaign committee in this election have been financial and real estate institutions.
About half of his fundraising is from large individual contributions, and 44 percent is from Political Action Committee contributions. Delaney also self-financed about 6 percent, or $67,500.
He lives in Potomac, near the 6th District line, but not in the district itself. Under the U.S. Constitution, members of Congress must live with the state they represent, but not the district.
His Republican challenger, Amie Hoeber, lives nearby, also just outside the district.
Hoeber has attacked Delaney over his possible political ambition. She cites comments he made about considering a run for U.S. Senate and chatter over whether he’ll enter the 2018 governor’s race — speculation thus far unconfirmed by Delaney himself.
On Monday, Delaney released new numbers from Democratic polling company Garin-Hart-Yang, which showed him up 24 points over Hoeber.
Nationally, Delaney looks to move laws incrementally, finding common ground where others might see gridlock.
“There is some of that. But you also start appreciating how our government was designed and I mean it really was designed such that things couldn’t get done unless there was broad consensus in the country,” he said. “And that actually makes sense to me.”
He has introduced bills with Republican cosponsors on topics including climate change, veterans’ health care, shoring up Social Security and changing the governance of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the Metro system.
Another bipartisan measure, The Partnership to Build America Act, attracted 41 co-sponsors during this Congress (22 Democrats and 19 Republicans). It would use revenue from international corporate tax reform to create a new national infrastructure fund.
Locally, Delaney supports improving Interstate 270 by widening the road and creating dynamic lanes that can change direction based on the time of day, as well as other “innovative technologies” that could increase the number of cars on the road or improve traffic flow.
Delaney said lawmakers should also consider tweaking large-scale legislation.
“I think if the Congress of the United States does something really big, we should sign up to fix it over time. Because we shouldn’t presume that we got it right,” he said. “It’s true of the Affordable Care Act and it’s true of Dodd-Frank [a Wall Street reform measure] and it’s true of many other significant things that unfortunately we haven’t been able to do smart fixes on because of this ideological debate. Either it’s perfect or it needs to be replaced entirely.”
Delaney said he supports large portions of the Affordable Care Act, including allowing children to remain on family plans longer and extending coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But he supports changes including mandates for small businesses to provide coverage and narrow marketplaces for private buyers that could be expanded to improve choice, he said.
Even with the partisan rancor that emanates from Washington, Delaney said he’s not deterred.
“I was always an optimist by nature — I don’t think you’re an entrepreneur unless you’re an optimist — but I’ve become much more optimistic about the United States now that I’ve had the privilege of serving,” he said.
The general election is Nov. 8.
Also on the ballot are Libertarian David L. Howser and Green Party candidate George Gluck.