Despite being outspent nearly 2-to-1 and running behind in some polls, state Rep. Scott Perry handily won his Republican primary against six opponents in April, paving the way for his election to Congress in what is considered a safe GOP district. He is considerably more conservative than his predecessor, retiring moderate Rep. Todd Platts, and he ran on a message of a leaner federal government, gun rights, and traditional marriage.
Perry was born in San Diego, Calif., but moved at age 7 to central Pennsylvania, where he lived in a home without electricity or plumbing; he took baths in a steel tub on the front porch. He grew up in what he described in an interview as a “little dysfunctional and a little disjointed family.” Perry was the child of a single mother and has met his biological father just once. The family fell on hard times following the move to Pennsylvania, when both his mother, a flight attendant, and stepfather, a pilot, lost their airline jobs.
After graduating from high school, Perry worked as an auto mechanic before enlisting in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He distinguished himself as a helicopter pilot, eventually rising to the rank of colonel. While serving as state representative, he was called to serve for a year in Iraq in 2009, flying 44 missions.
As a young man, Perry held a series of jobs, including as a dockhand, an insurance sales agent, and a designer and drafter at an engineering firm. But then he went to Penn State, where a political science course sparked his interest in politics. After graduating in 1991, Perry and a partner founded Hydrotech Mechanical Services and built it into a successful contracting firm specializing in meter calibration and line work for municipalities. The venture hit a snag in 2002 when the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office accused Perry of falsifying reports to the state Environmental Protection Department. Instead of fighting the charge, Perry entered the state’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, a pretrial avenue, similar to probation, available to first-time offenders. The matter ended with a $5,000 fine and his record being expunged. Perry maintains his innocence on the charge, asserting that an overzealous “bureaucrat” was the culprit.
While Perry says that his legal ordeal inspired him to get more involved in politics, he was no political neophyte when he launched his 2006 run for a seat in the state House. He was a past president of the Pennsylvania Young Republicans and had served on boards and committees dealing with local water issues. He also chaired his local planning commission. In the state House, Perry is best known for winning an expansion of the law allowing residents to use deadly force in self-defense, which differs from Florida’s “stand your ground” law in that it requires that an assailant display a weapon. He also bucked Republican Gov. Tom Corbett by proposing legislation that would have declined federal money to fund insurance exchanges under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Perry’s past legal troubles became an issue in the Republican primary, but they seemed to matter little to voters. He won endorsements from Corbett in the primary and from GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in the general election. Although he did not win Platts’s formal backing, he used the lawmaker’s kind words about him in a mailer to voters. Perry ended up with nearly 54 percent of the primary vote. He had far less trouble in November against Democrat Harry Perkinson, an engineer.
Jonathan Miller contributed to this article.