Tom Brier, the millennial working to oust Scott Perry
VIDEO: Congressional candidate Tom Brier York Dispatch
Democrat Tom Brier keeps open ears to the policy goals of his party's progressive wing. But that doesn't mean he's ready to fully embrace those goals.
The 27-year-old author and attorney from Hershey, who has described fellow 10th Congressional District Democratic candidate and state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale as handpicked by the establishment, isn't tracking to his party's left flank like several similarly young, recently elected members of Congress.
Brier and DePasquale share some moderate approaches to hot topics such as health care, but where Brier breaks from the high-profile auditor general, he said, is youthful energy and his willingness to consider the policies bubbling from the Democratic left.
"I'm not as ready to dismiss the progressive politics," Brier said. "I don't think, pragmatically, that Medicare for All is the best option right now. But I definitely welcome the conversation —the same with the Green New Deal."
The two candidates are competing to challenge Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, in the 2020 general election.
Brier isn't new to politics. He worked for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in both high school and college before eventually receiving a law degree from Pennsylvania State University and becoming an attorney.
But now he's all-in on the 10th District campaign, laying out policies full time thanks to the success of some of his published works, such as "While Reason Slept," which covers the philosophy of the founding fathers.
Three experiences pushed Brier toward running for Congress, he said. His interest in the country's political history, the deaths of three of his high school teammates from opioid addiction and the surprise outcome of the 2016 election all played a role.
Brier has read the 448-page Mueller report, he said. President Donald Trump is a racist and an impeachment inquiry should be launched, he said.
The rhetoric has been echoed most strongly by the left flank of the party, yet Brier is more hesitant in regards to that wing's policy proposals.
For example, he doesn't support canceling student debt, nor does he support Medicare for All — at least at this point.
Brier would rather cap interest rates and encourage students to go into loan-forgiveness plans such as the Peace Corps. As for health care, he wants to see the full potential of the Affordable Care Act before moving to an overhaul like Medicare for All, which he said could cause negative ripple effects throughout the country.
Brier has said he doesn't want "open borders," but he asserted the government needs to use compassionate politics and focus on funding technology and manpower at the border, especially at ports of entry.
His plans to tackle the opioid epidemic include changing the rhetoric surrounding addiction and giving addicts better access to care rather than putting them in the criminal justice system.
However, his kudos to the progressive wing of the party begins with economic policy and climate change.
"We need to invert our economic mindset," he said. "If you look at how much of an investment the taxpayer has made in the public space, it's shocking how little return they get. Inequality hasn't reached this point since the Gilded Age."
Brier, a $15 minimum wage advocate, said he supports requiring corporations to invest in their workers before they're allowed to take their profits and give it to shareholders, which would ensure pensions, benefits and proper wages.
He also favors requiring the government to take an equity stake in companies it invests in to ensure taxpayers don't carry the burden when a company doesn't end up doing well and the government cannot recoup its losses.
Brier breaks further left on climate change, which he acknowledges as an imminent threat that needs radical action.
He praised the Green New Deal, although he took issue with its economic aspects, such as guaranteed economic stability for those unwilling to work.
"We need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan, using the federal power of the purse to incentivize public-private collaborations to work with the state and local governments," he said.
Proposals such as a carbon tax and setting emission reduction goals are a great way to address climate change, he said, but private companies and state and local governments need the resources to carry such goals out.
This is his first time running for a public office. He's raised more than $200,000 since January. Roughly 97% of that came from individual donations.
DePasquale has yet to file a campaign finance report, but political analysts have said his name recognition in the state will bring in plenty of money.
DePasquale has already received support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, although the U.S. House campaign arm has yet to formally endorse him.
Brier says he doesn't need help from Washington Democrats to best DePasquale and oust Perry, who's seeking his fifth term.
The state Supreme Court last year implemented new congressional lines undoing Republican-friendly gerrymandering. But any Democrat will face Perry in a generally red district covering northern York County, part of Cumberland County and all of Dauphin County.
"You have to meet them where they are," Brier said. "One of the things the Democratic Party has done over the last three decades is ignore 30% of the voting population because they've essentially written it off. We have a preconceived notion of what a Democratic voter would be. No wonder we lose."
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.