Capital-Star Q&A: PA-10 Democratic candidate Tom Brier talks climate change, DePasquale

Tom Brier is a Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District, a top target for national Democrats. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

It’s 10 months until next year’s primary election, and more than a year until the 2020 general election. 

Still, Democrats living in central Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District already have two choices to face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.

One of them is establishment-backed Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a veteran politician who previously represented York County in the state House of Representatives. 

The other is Tom Brier of Hershey, a 27-year-old Dickinson College graduate and lawyer who has never held elected office.

In 2018, Perry, a veteran and member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus, faced Democrat George Scott in a redrawn seat that was part of a statewide congressional map imposed by the state Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The new 10th District traded swaths of rural Adams and York counties for Harrisburg and its blue-trending suburbs. The end result was a seat that went from blood red to a more purplish hue. Perry narrowly won re-election, defeating Scott, also of York County, by 2.7 percent. 

Now, DePasquale and Brier are vying for the right to finally send Perry packing in a 2020 race that’s been heavily targeted by national Democrats. 

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star sat down with Brier, who entered the race in April, just a week after DePasquale officially entered the race to talk about himself, his policy, and his opponent.

The below transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Capital-Star: What made you decide that your next step is to run for Congress?

Tom Brier: Actually, it was kind of serendipitous, I came across a quote from Abraham Lincoln. He was 23 years old. And he was talking to a group of young people. And he said that, in order to maintain, he called it our “proud fabric of freedom.” He said that we must revisit the story of our founding as often as we read the Bible. 

And so I went back, and I started just reading about the ideological origins of the revolution, the Founders philosophy of government. And the more I read about it, the more stark the contrast is between what they envisioned, and what politics is today, you know, it’s kind of this gradual learning process, and all of a sudden, was this sudden realization that we are so off track, you know. It’s not abstract to say that we are doing nothing of what democracy should be. And so it was kind of enlightening by writing the book.

Then it combined with the fact that I’ve had three high school teammates died from opioids to in the past 12 months. And it’s just devastating. It changes your perspective on time, on urgency. You start thinking about how much people are struggling through these diseases of despair.

There’s so many structural issues. And and when I looked at my friends, I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could move forward and had a good job. But that was not the case for so many people. And so I thought, “You know, what, I think we need a course correction.” I think a new generation of leadership is a way to do it. And I figured, if not now, then when?

Q: You’re a 27-year-old running for Congress? What do you think you bring to the table as a millennial that other candidates aren’t going to have? 

Brier: Being young and being invested in the future of the country, I think, is a good thing. Because we’re the ones experiencing these problems.

It’s our friends who are struggling with opioids; we’re the ones who student loan debt; we’re the ones staring down the barrel of a crime of a climate crisis. And so I think young people feeling the urgency of the moment, and not viewing it as some abstract way to get involved in politics makes it real, and authentic. And I think that’s infectious. 

The more people you see involved more young people who seem to be involved in politics, I think better it is. And millennials now are the largest voting bloc in the country. I mean, we can we have the power to change politics. And I think the way to do that is to start young, get young people involved in the campaign, and try to do that, you know, the right way. 

Q: Climate change is right near the top of the list of issues on your website.  And you’ve also mentioned that when you’re talking generationally, it is Millennials who are staring down the barrel of a climate crisis. How do you think as a congressperson you could address climate change?

Brier: I think it’s twofold. I think first, and I think someone like [U.S. Rep Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez in New York is doing the job, is bringing it to the forefront of our political discourse. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in 2016, I think were asked only three questions on climate change. It wasn’t even an issue. And now it’s at the forefront of our debates. And that’s a good thing. And I think we have to keep it that way. 

You know, Scott Perry, is someone who even questions whether climate change is real. That’s how low of a starting point we’re at. It’s bringing science back into the picture, bringing in people who know what’s going on and can solve these problems.

[Editor’s note: Perry has said he thinks the climate is changing, but “doesn’t know exactly how” and supported withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords.]

And then I think from there, policywise, we need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan. You know, it’s using the federal power of the purse, to incentivize public private collaborations to work with state and local governments, and using the resources of the federal government to invest in clean energy. 

Q: Not to put too fine a point, but that you mentioned a Marshall Plan for green investment —

Brier: A Green New Deal? Yeah. But I think that’s the essence of it. Right? It’s a radical change. It’s not incremental, we passed the point of the luxury of leisure. Right? It’s this has to happen, ASAP. And if there’s nothing else on the table, then maybe the Green New Deal is the way to go. But I think her idea of doing something radical is really the only solution.

Q: What do you see as the marquee issues in the campaign?

Brier: I think it’s health care. You know, when Scott Perry ran, he…[promised] to protect coverage for preexisting conditions. And he just voted against the Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019. My friends and family have preexisting conditions. And they’re terrified about losing health care coverage. 

Student loans. $36,000 per student, I think, is the average in Pennsylvania. Can’t buy a mortgage, can’t invest in a business, can’t save for retirement, can’t get married. Those are issues that prevent people from getting ahead. 

And it’s jobs. You know, I think the unemployment numbers today are misleading, because so many people work in the gig economy — Uber, Lyft, Airbnb — they’re working two jobs. They don’t have any retirement savings. They don’t have any health care benefits. And so it’s providing a $15 minimum wage, at the very least, and providing training that they need to work in the jobs of the future. 

Q: How do you make the argument that you’re a better candidate than Eugene DePasquale?

Brier: I think it really comes down to a choice. It’s, do we want to invest in the future and get the country moving? Or are we going to look to the past and put in an establishment candidate who’s going to be there maybe for two or four years? 

You know, I think one of the things that I can distinguish myself from with Eugene is one, I’m not taking corporate money. I’ve taken the corporate PAC pledge, he’s taken money from Comcast and AT&T his entire career.

Second, and this is something that resonates deeply with people here, is that he voted with the Republicans for the gerrymandering bill, which is unconstitutional. That, to me, is political malpractice. It’s almost disqualifying. The fact that this district wouldn’t even exist, but for the fact that the Supreme Court overturned his vote is, I think, the cruelest form of hypocrisy. He’s coming back to the same people whose voting rights he took away to ask him to represent them. And I don’t think the Democratic Party or the people are willing to stand for that. 

Q: Are there any topics where you think you break with the Democratic Party orthodoxy?

Brier: Medicare for all, for example, is something that is, I would say, pretty mainstream. It’s not something I agree with, I would like to see us reform the [Affordable Care Act], perhaps provide a robust public option, as opposed to just overhauling the system overnight. 

I think the essence of [the party] is asking the wealthiest in the country and corporations to give back. And I think that’s something that I agree on wholeheartedly. The mechanism to do so, that is something I think that there can be a conversation on. Whether it’s a wealth tax, whether that’s raising income taxes on corporations. You know, I think there’s a discussion there, but honestly, the Democratic Party, I think, is the party that’s trying to move the country forward. And pretty much every principled issue, I would say, I agree.

Q: What do you see is your path to try and win a primary and then the general?

Brier: So it’s honestly just trying to connect with as many folks as I can go into community events, you know, obviously continuing to raise money, but trying to think of creative ways to get other people involved in the political process. We have a Brier for Congress basketball team in Harrisburg, which is a blast. We’re five and one, by the way, in second place, which we’re very proud of.

But you know, there’s 100 people there pretty much every Tuesday and Thursday night, and it’s doing voter registration drives it, things like that, you know, going through sports teams, meeting with young people we have, I think it’s 30,000 college students in the district. So there are six colleges, to law schools, the Army War College, and then the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. And not many of them are registered to vote here. 

We’ve already set up teams now at three of those institutions, to get as many people registered to vote over the course of the next year as we can. That’s going to be a top priority — especially going into the fall — is energizing the youth vote.

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