Brier pitches change, DePasquale experience to flip 10th Congressional District seat blue

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, background, listens to Hershey attorney Tom Brier, foreground, answer a question at a forum at Widener Law School in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

With a chance to flip a battleground district in November, two Democratic congressional hopefuls shared a stage for the first time Tuesday in a fast-moving forum touching on gerrymandering, climate change, and healthcare.

Facing off were Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, 48, of York, and Hershey attorney Tom Brier, 28. Both are seeking the Democratic Party’s nod to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, in the general election. 

The forum was hosted by Widener Law School in Harrisburg, and curious voters nearly filled the college lecture hall for the 90-minute long conversation.

Brier used his first chance sharing the stage with establishment favorite DePasquale to throw barbs at his long record. The York Democrat served in the state House before spending two terms as Pennsylvania’s elected fiscal watchdog.

Brier pointed out that both DePasquale and Perry voted in favor of a gerrymandered congressional map when they served in the state House in 2011. The state Supreme Court found the jagged districts unconstitutional in 2018.

“I would never vote for a gerrymandering bill. I would never deprive you of your right to vote for a decade,” Brier said. “I promise I will stand on principle at [the] very moment that my political career relies on it.”

DePasquale said he should “have fought harder” to pass legislation authorizing an independent redistricting commission when Democrats held a majority in the House from 2006 to 2010.

But after the forum, DePasquale defended his vote for the gerrymandered lines, saying “you had to vote for something.”

Brier also tried to separate himself from DePasquale by backing the Green New Deal and arguing for a moratorium on fracking, a controversial process used to extract natural gas from rock.

DePasquale doesn’t back a moratorium, but he often called upon his 14 years of service in Harrisburg to win over attendees to his climate platform. 

He cited passing a 2008 law, with wide bipartisan backing, that poured $600 million in grants and loans into alternative energy producers, such as wind and solar.

DePasquale said he would bring that experience cajoling “yes” votes to Congress.

“You have to find who’s willing to be a yes, not automatic yes … and spend painstaking hours with those individuals. What do they need tweaked in the bill?,” DePasquale said.

One attendee who came with her mind made up was Kate Quimby, a 72-year-old Harrisburg resident with a Brier button on her purse.

Quimby was stunned by Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. Brier, she said, was her “first little ray of sunshine” after the upset.

Watching Brier quote civil rights leaders and the Kennedys, Quimby said that he can “win back the soul of the nation.” DePasquale, she added, was “relying heavily on what he’s done” instead of inspiring voters.

But for Mike Eichinger, 39, of Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County, DePasquale was his man after the forum.

The Harrisburg veteran’s answers convinced Eichinger that he could show up to Congress and get work done on the climate, a top priority for him.

And while gerrymandering was another top concern, Eichinger said he understood that eventually lawmakers have to cut a deal.

“You can stonewall all you want, but eventually you have to make a compromise,” Eichinger said.

At least one attendee left less sure of her choice. Kristen Williams, 29 of Harrisburg, stood up and asked both Brier and DePasquale if they backed Medicare-for-All. Both said no, instead saying they preferred offering a public option while improving the Affordable Care Act.

For Williams, single-payer is personal. Already carrying student loan debt, she recently was hospitalized for three days. Her job doesn’t offer insurance. And she isn’t paid enough to own it. So, she now has $20,000 in medical debt, she said.

Williams wanted to see her preferred candidate, Brier, take a stand on health care and make a big demand up front.

Former President Barack “Obama started with the public option, and Republicans would not do it anyway,” Williams said.

Instead, she’s back to deciding between the two. DePasquale impressed her in addressing student loan debt — he backed free public college for all — but Williams also likes Brier’s stern stand on fracking.

The 10th District race will be highly watched, as Congressional Democrats have already picked it as a target race to expand their majority. 

Perry won in 2018 by just 2.6 percentage points in his central Pennsylvania seat, which includes Harrisburg, Hershey, Carlisle and York with more rural surroundings.

Read a Twitter thread with more details of the candidates’ answers here.