Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney tours St. Anthony Regional Hospital and Nursing Home Thursday with St. Anthony President and CEO Ed Smith.
Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney tours St. Anthony Regional Hospital and Nursing Home Thursday with St. Anthony President and CEO Ed Smith.

February 4, 2019

The story behind a defining statue wasn’t lost on a recent high-profile visitor.

John Delaney, a working-class kid from New Jersey who built a publicly traded health-care financing company and became a Maryland congressman, had something of a family moment as his pickup truck — the one he inherited from his late electrician father — stopped in front of the welcoming statue at the entrance to Carroll’s St. Anthony Regional Hospital.

Delaney, a Democratic presidential candidate, was here to talk policy with the medical center’s CEO and president, Ed Smith. But Delaney paused before entering. He knows all about Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost souls.

“When we pulled up to St. Anthony the first thing I saw there was the statue of Saint Anthony,” said Delaney, 55. “I had a flashback. My mother, her favorite saint is Saint Anthony.”

Tuesday is the official day of St. Anthony — and it is still the day his mother, Elaine, calls or texts Delaney with this message: “Today is going to be a good day because it is Saint Anthony Day.”

As a kid Delaney would regularly go to Catholic Church functions with a book full of Saint Anthony prayers, he said.

“Even though I’ve seen the statue before, I remember it in our church, and it was about the same-sized statue as that statue outside St. Anthony,” Delaney said.

On this frigid Thursday, Delaney quickly made his way inside the hospital for a 90-minute tour and conversation with Smith — a political independent who regularly speaks with both Republicans and Democrats to advocate for St. Anthony, Carroll’s largest employer with the careers and jobs of more than 800 people tied to it.

Delaney, on his 23rd trip as a presidential candidate to Iowa, walked through the surgery center and Birth Place. Four hundred babies from Carroll and a sweep of western central Iowa were born there in 2018. It’s regional center, and vital for the economies of small towns around Carroll as young people need access to obstetrics, Smith explained.

“It’s hard for a family to move to, say, Jefferson, if they don’t have that security,” Smith said. “We are 30 minutes away.”

Delaney, the co-founder of Health Care Financial Partners, asked Smith a raft of in-depth questions on the medical center, from sources of funding to services mix (57 percent Medicare) and occupancy (licensed for 99 beds).

“I was very impressed by St. Anthony,” Delaney said. “I think it’s a terrific hospital, a terrific medical facility in general, because it is more than just a hospital. I think it’s real asset to the community. I’m just really impressed that the facility is so well run.”

On health care, Delaney says people 55 and older should be eligible for Medicare. The age requirement for that federal program is now 65 unless a disability or certain other factors are involved.

The Maryland congressman opposes so-called “Medicare for all,” but thinks Medicaid should be available to all Americans, with credits provided to people who want to opt out and purchase more comprehensive policies from private insurance markets. Medicaid, he said, should be a default for all.

Smith, who is not endorsing a candidate, applauded Delaney for putting the time in Iowa. Delaney made a stop in Audubon well over a year ago, in September 2017.

“It’s sounds like a little Jimmy Carter approach, which is pretty cool,” said Smith, referencing the Iowa work the former president from Georgia put in to rise from obscurity to the White House in 1976 with the Iowa Caucuses as a catalyst.

Earlier in the day, Delaney toured American Athletic Inc. in Jefferson, a major producer of equipment for Olympic-level gymnastics and big-time college and professional basketball, among other endeavors. AAI just renewed a major contract with the NBA for basketball backstops and boards and rims.

“It’s been a huge, huge bonus, because kids want to play on what they see on TV,” said Mark Lane, vice president of operations for AAI, which started business in 1954 as American Trampoline.

Delaney saw firsthand one of AAI’s popular new items, the G2N — a gym-to-Ninja gymnastics-and-training unit that draws kids into the sport.

With products for gymnasts and NBA stars, AAI, right in Jefferson, fashions equipment for some of the world’s largest and smallest athletes, Lane told Delaney.

The company’s corporate structure places it under the influence of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s investment operation.

“As close as we are to Omaha, Warren hasn’t been here yet,” Lane joked.

Delaney responded, “That must mean you are doing something right.”

After the Jefferson and Carroll stops, Delaney talked with this newspaper about the campaign before heading to Denison for a town hall meeting at the Donna Reed Center For The Performing Arts.

Delaney’s wife, April, grew up in Idaho, where her father was chairman of the Idaho Potato Farmers Association.

Delaney spent time in the winters with his father-in-law, usually around the holidays, and learned about the inherent risks farmers take with the weather and other factors, and how they use resources.

“He would always be planning for what crops he would have,” Delaney said. “I was always impressed with how he thought so broadly about what he thought was going on in the world and how it influenced his decision about what crops he was going to plant. He had these opinions about weather patterns and things that were going to happen.”

Delaney and his wife have four daughters. The couple is devoutly Catholic, Delaney said.

How does his Catholic faith more completely inform his public service?

“What I’ve gotten from my church … is it really informs how I think about public policy, and the world in general is really a social-justice mission where we have some obligation to take care of those in our society who are left behind, support the poor, support the immigrant, do everything we can to make sure people aren’t insecure about their housing, about their food, about their health care,” Delaney said.

A month ago, Delaney and his wife went to the United States border with Mexico and visited a town, Dilley, Texas, about two hours from San Antonio and home to the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest immigrant-detention facility Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) runs in the nation.

There were 1,700 people — women and children — being held in the facility, Delaney said. All of them were asylum seekers from Central America. Delaney’s wife, who just stepped down as the chairwoman of Georgetown Law School, from which both Delaneys graduated, took 14 law students and two professors from the school, to help the immigrants prepare cases for safe harbor in the United States.

“I believe that the roots of that commitment and passion that we have as family, and that I bring to public service, comes from my church,” Delaney said.

In Denison, interacting with a crowd of about 30 people, Delaney heard from Beth Vogt, the Crawford County Democratic Party chairwoman who expressed strong view on immigration.

“We all know it’s not a wall that’s going to fix what’s going on,” Vogt said.

Delaney supports an overhaul of the immigration system that provides a path to citizenship for law-abiding people who are undocumented while strengthening border security.

During the immigration discussion, he took a pointed shot at immigration hardliner U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.

“Certainly Steve King is the worst member of Congress,” Delaney said.

On abortion rights, Delaney said he is politically pro-choice.

“I strongly believe that my faith shouldn’t inform other people’s decisions, and that’s why I’m a pro-choice elected official, and I support women’s reproductive freedom,” Delaney said.

Big picture, Delaney proposes a $1 trillion infrastructure plan he’d fund with revenue from international tax reform on American corporations.

He’d require the government to bid contracts in struggling economic areas, not in Washington, D.C., or San Francisco, places with robust business climates. His plan also would incent investment in beleaguered rural areas of the nation by allowing investors breaks on capital income taxes if they move their money to forlorn reaches.

In the last year, 80 percent of the venture capital in the United States went to 50 counties, Delaney said.

“Is it any surprise that so many of our towns have been sort of hollowed out for jobs?” he asked.

Amid the swirl of identity politics and race to grab a progressive foothold in the Democratic Party, Delaney believes there remains a hunger for candidates who pledge to work with Republicans.

The first 100 days in a Delaney presidential administration would be dedicated exclusively to bipartisan legislation, issues like criminal-justice reform and infrastructure, plans that already have Democratic-Republican coalitions in place, the congressman said.

The country wants to be more unified,” he said in Denison.