By Blake Neff - 02/03/14 06:00 AM EST
Though his childhood home is just a hundred miles from Washington, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) has come a long way to reach Congress.
“One of my earliest recollections is being on the end of a two-man saw with my brother, cutting firewood for the upcoming winter,” Perry told The Hill. “We couldn’t afford for me to be involved in extracurricular activities, we never went to the movies, we didn’t go out to dinner.”
Despite his tough situation growing up, Perry dreamed big at a young age.
“I had two dreams growing up,” Perry said. “One was to run for president, and the other was to fly helicopters.”
Perry took his first job at age 13, picking fruit for what he says was less than minimum wage. For the next 17 years, he bounced around a wide array of jobs, trying his hand at everything from draftsman to dockworker to insurance agent. In his late 20s, he completed a degree at Penn State University while working full time, and in 1993 applied the various skills he had picked up to found Hydrotech, his own mechanical contracting firm.
Perry’s humble origins and experience with labor-intensive jobs have given him a grounded outlook on life that privileges hard work in any form.
“I’ve done a lot of things, and I’m not too ashamed to do anything,” he said.
Even Perry’s hobbies have the look of hard work. He personally built his own house, and recently picked up stonemasonry as a skill.
“You never know when you won’t have a job in elected office, so you’ve got to have some skills outside,” Perry joked.
Along with his business success, Perry has pursued one of his dreams through a different avenue. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and eventually became a helicopter pilot, flying everything from Black Hawks to Apaches.
Perry has remained in the Guard ever since, serving overseas multiple times. In 2009, closing in on 50 years old, Perry served a yearlong deployment in Iraq as the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment, better known as Task Force Diablo.
The leadership role taxed him enormously in both physical and mental terms. Not only was Perry responsible for having his airmen trained and prepared for each mission, but he also had to oversee the day-to-day administration of personnel, and he even sometimes took on low-level mission roles such as helicopter gunner to familiarize himself with the nature of the missions he was commanding.
Perry says the experience was challenging, but that years of preparation and cultivating self-discipline had left him well-prepared for it. He currently holds the rank of colonel.
Perry likes to cite his military experience to explain the unique opportunities he believes America offers its citizens. He describes an experience during a Guard deployment to Latin America when his unit arrived in a small village. The village’s residents, he found, were eager to collect the throwaway plastic utensils from the soldiers’ ration packs.
“We don’t see that in America. We take for granted that these things are available to us,” Perry said.
Perry was a Republican activist at an early age, serving as president of the Pennsylvania Young Republicans and several other Republican organizations. His shift into electoral politics came in 2006, when he won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was reelected unopposed in 2008 and 2010. While there, he spearheaded an expansion of Pennsylvania’s self-defense law.
Perry’s opportunity to jump to a national office arose when the 19th District’s Todd Platts (R) honored a self-imposed term limit and retired after 12 years.
Perry ran for the seat, rebranded as the 4th District following 2012’s redistricting, and trounced his six primary opponents with over 50 percent of the vote after winning the endorsement of most local party notables.
November’s general election was largely a formality in the strongly Republican district; Perry vanquished engineer Harry Perkinson by more than 25 points.
Like many recently elected Republicans, Perry identifies balancing the budget as his top long-term political goal, though he is frank about the difficulty of ever achieving this.
“I don’t have any delusions of grandeur,” he said. “But I certainly think it’s possible, or I wouldn’t be here.”
He says that while the Republican Party in the past failed to cut deficits when in power, times are changing and House membership is tilting increasingly towards supporting entitlement changes and other major spending reforms.
Though solidly enmeshed with the GOP’s conservative wing, Perry says bipartisanship can be more feasible than people realize, even for a strong partisan like himself.
“I think about government intrusion in [the] NSA, which puts together a person like me with Alan Grayson [D-Fla.],” Perry said. “I would say we’re decidedly on two ends of the political spectrum on a lot of issues, but there’s an issue where we both have a strong agreement that the government has gone too far. We can focus on that, because a lot of Americans feel the same way.”
Perry also said he has been working to pull together a bipartisan working group of freshmen representatives to seek out areas where they could collaborate in the House to cut spending.
Perry says he does not want to speculate on his future too much, but says his other childhood dream, to run for president, is not entirely dead yet.
“It doesn’t look like a very easy job,” he said with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t count it out. You never know!”