Central Pennsylvania’s own 10th Congressional District is shaping up to be marquee 2020 fight, as Republican Rep. Scott Perry — a member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus — prepares to hold on to a district centered on Harrisburg and its suburbs that went from blood red to purple-tinged in 2018.
Two Democrats have already announced runs against the incumbent: 28-year-old lawyer Tom Brier and two-term state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who also represented the city of York in the Pennsylvania House from 2006 until 2012.
The Capital-Star talked with Brier, of Hershey, earlier this month, and plans to speak to all of the candidates ahead of the 2020 primary.
DePasquale, who like Perry is a York County resident, recently chatted with the Capital-Star about how he decided on a congressional run, his priorities, and the occasional political flak that comes with watchdogging the rest of state government.
The below transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Capital-Star: You’ve run for state House, you’ve run for auditor general. Why now run for Congress?
Eugene DePasquale: My background as auditor general [is] to take on the establishment, to shake things up. What I believe, and I believe the voters agree with me, is that what is needed right now is someone willing to go down [to Washington, D.C.] and shake things up and make it work for average everyday voters back here at home.
We’ve got to lower health care costs, we’ve got to lower prescription drug costs, we’ve got to get the economy working for everybody. … I look forward to taking on that challenge.
Q: What would be your top priority as a congressman?
DePasquale: Certainly health care costs [and] protecting people [with] preexisting conditions. I lost a brother to muscular dystrophy, and this is obviously going back awhile. Today, because of the Affordable Care Act, most families are now protected. But I know Scott Perry voted to get to it take away, and I’d fight with everything I got to protect it.
[Editor’s note: In May, Perry voted “no” on the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, which he called “a disingenuous and maliciously-named proposal that not only has nothing to do with pre-existing conditions, but also aims to confuse the American People.”]
I also uncovered a thousand untested rape kits as auditor general. I’m going to fight for funding across the country to get rid of that backlog.
Q: You already have an opponent, and you guys are opposites. Tom Brier has no elected experience, and you have a decade plus. How do you think that plays?
DePasquale: That’s up to the voters. All I know is I have a record that people can look at. I’m going to take on the establishment. I posted all my expenses online; I was the first statewide elected official to do it. I believe my record is a strong advantage in terms of where I stand on issues and exactly how I feel.
Q: Brier also pointed out your vote for the gerrymandered 2011 congressional maps and called it hypocritical. How do you respond?
DePasquale: I was the one who introduced as a state legislator a bill that would have created the Iowa redistricting commission [Editor’s note: a system that uses nonpartisan staff to draw the maps]. I believe that we should have non-political people drawing the political lines, and I believe strongly that voters get to pick elected officials.
Q: What’s the way to convince this district, even with President Donald Trump on the ballot, that they should elect a Democrat to Congress?
DePasquale: Well, I actually did flip the district in 2016, running for auditor general. I won Scott Perry’s district. It shows I’m the guy who has a very large percent of Democrats’ [support] and I have crossover appeal as well.
Auditor General @DePasqualePA is apparently considering running for PA-10 next year. If true, it would be HUGE. PA-10 is a top target for the Dems and DePasquale is an A+ recruit. Proof: In his '16 re-election he carried PA-10 51%-49%*. #PAPolitics pic.twitter.com/8SBeKJwT7Q
— Ben Forstate (@4st8) March 27, 2019
Q: Do you picture yourself as a bipartisan legislator?
DePasquale: The short answer is yes, but I don’t even describe it as bipartisan. I look it as you work with whoever it is to get the goal done. That may mean consolidating all the Democrats, that may mean reaching across the aisle.
The goal isn’t bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake. The goal is to do the right thing for the district.
Q: Your name has been rumored for a lot of other runs in Pennsylvania [including governor]. What made you decide against them?
DePasquale: The thing that really started to get me to think seriously about this was Scott Perry was one of the people who basically helped shut down the federal government. When that federal government shutdown happened, Scott Perry said he didn’t know a single federal employee living paycheck to paycheck.
It was clear the Freedom Caucus was the reason behind that shutdown. That kind of behavior is unacceptable [and] that sort of out-of-touch mentality is part of the problem in Washington.
[Editor’s note: Perry told PennLive that he “believes the larger context of his remarks were sacrificed to Twitter.” He contended that the border fight was worth a shutdown and that he felt empathy for waylaid federal workers. He also said that all workers should make sure they have money saved in case of a sudden change in work.]
Q: Are you committed to staying in Congress for more than one term?
DePasquale: Yes, absolutely. Obviously it’s up to voters if I win, but if I win I am committed to at least several terms.
Q: Your budget was cut by 10 percent this year. How do you feel about that?
DePasquale: My department, according to Governing Magazine, has been cut more than any other state auditor in the country. Maybe it’s just punishment for me being good at the job, who knows. It’s the only way I can take it. We continue to show that the department I lead roots out waste, fraud, and abuse and makes Pennsylvania better.
I’m not going to stop just because these guys in Harrisburg don’t like what I’m doing. I just take it as another sign of how effective I’ve been.
[Editor’s note: Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman told PennLive of the cuts, “most people, Republican and Democrat, agreed that apparently he’s got too many resources that he is out there getting involved in areas that don’t come under the purview of the auditor general so he could withstand a reduction in his budget.”]
Q: [The state GOP] complains about your press conferences — that you use them to enlarge your reputation. Any sense if the cuts and this are related?
DePasquale: I have no idea. All I know is we actually got my travel costs down by $700,000. That’s No. 1. No. 2, you’d like to think they’re not doing it for political reasons but you never know. The best way for me to inform the public of what I do is to have a press conference.
If it wasn’t for those press conferences, people wouldn’t have known about those untested rape kits, or about 58,000 unanswered calls to the child abuse hotline, and what we’re doing to try and make sure the Harrisburg school district is benefiting all of its kids.