'I want to see Pennsylvania flourish'
By Steven Hoffman
Eric Roe estimates that he has knocked on 9,000 doors since he entered the 158th Legislative District race, and he has listened to residents talk about the need for quality schools, property tax reforms, and for solutions to the growing state pension crisis. He has learned that the concerns of the district’s residents mirror his own, just as their values mirror his.
Roe envisions a Pennsylvania with a stronger economy, lower taxes, and better schools, and he promises that he will make those goals the cornerstone of his work in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“I want to see Pennsylvania be the most family-friendly, business-friendly state in the country, and that's achievable,” Roe said.
Roe and Democrat Susan Rzucidlo are vying to win the State House seat that has been held by State Rep. Chris Ross for the last 20 years. The 158th Legislative District includes the townships of East Bradford, East Marlborough, London Britain, New Garden, Newlin, West Bradford, and West Marlborough, portions of West Goshen Township, and Avondale Borough.
The big difference between the two candidates, Roe said, is that they have differing views on the size and scope of government.
“I think government should be smaller,” Roe said, explaining that sound financial stewardship is at the center of his plan for the state government.
“We have to pass responsible budgets,” he explained. “We need lower taxes for families, seniors, and employers. When you lower taxes, it helps attract businesses to Pennsylvania.”
Roe said that Rzucidlo would have supported the spending increases—and the tax hikes to support them—in Gov. Tom Wolf’s first two proposed budgets. State lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise on the 2015 spending plan, and the budget impasse lingered for nine months and jeopardized the operations of school districts and various programs that rely on state funding.
Roe, 29, took an unlikely path to earn the Republican nomination. At the beginning of 2016, Lenny Rivera, a Kennett Square attorney, was considered the likely Republican nominee for the 158th District seat. But Democrats challenged his nominating petitions in court. Rivera withdrew from the race in March. Roe began a write-in campaign about four weeks before the April 26 Primary election, suddenly in the midst of his first campaign for political office. He approached the race with energy and enthusiasm, knocking on 2,000 doors in the weeks leading up to the Primary election. He enjoyed the opportunity to meet with residents of the 158th District.
“The residents inspire me,” Roe explained. “We have some of the kindest people in this district. We have educated voters who pay attention to what's going on politically.”
Roe emerged victorious in the Primary Election, earning 61 percent of the vote, despite being out-spent by his two opponents—one a Republican and one a Democrat. That was an important political lesson. Hard work and communicating an effective plan will trump simply spending money on a campaign when it comes to earning the support of voters.
When Roe steps into the voting booth on Nov. 8, it will be the first time that he will see his own name on a ballot on election day. But his resume includes numerous experiences that have prepared him to serve in government.
Roe studied political science at American University in Washington, D.C. and later earned a master's degree in public policy from the University College London. He served at the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011, where he was a staffer for chairman Michael Steele during the 2010 midterm elections. He served as a special assistant at The Chertoff Group, a homeland security consulting firm led by Michael Chertoff, the former Department of Homeland Security Secretary. He also completed a resident fellowship at the John Jay Institute in Philadelphia.
In 2014, Roe joined Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline's staff as an administrative analyst, giving him an inside look at the functioning of county government each day. He considers Kichline and Commissioner Terence Farrell to be political mentors, and he sees how the two Republicans work collaboratively with Democrat Kathi Cozzone on the three-person board that has historically been comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat. Chester County has been recognized numerous times for the quality of its government, and for providing good services to residents—but with fiscal constraint.
Roe would like to see the state government function the same way. It will be essential for Republicans and Democrats to work together, Roe said.
“I'm going into this with realistic expectations. It will involve compromise. Compromise is not a bad word,” Rose said. “I intend to work on both sides of the aisle. I've seen that work at the county level, and I know that it can work. Republicans and Democrats can work together. A good legislator is willing to look at every avenue to find common ground.”
Roe will draw from his diverse educational and professional experiences in public service and the private sector. He is on the board of directors of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County and volunteers as a citizenship teacher at La Comunidad Hispana. He speaks fluent Spanish and French, and has traveled abroad on several mission trips, including to Haiti, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and China.
His wife, Alice, frequently joins him out on the campaign trail. The couple met during a Bible study class when Roe was studying in England.
“She has been my biggest supporter in this,” he explained.
Alice immigrated to the U.S., moving away from the urban area of London to the rural Chester County.
“She really loves it here,” Roe said, explaining that they both enjoy volunteering in the community.
One experience that has been particularly rewarding has been teaching a citizenship class at La Comunidad Hispana. There, he met Bertha, an immigrant from Mexico who is a mother and small business owner.
He explained, “She hardly spoke a word of English, but she studied hard, learned English, and learned about American history. She was an inspiration to me, and a reminder that the American Dream is alive and well.”
Roe wants to go to Harrisburg to help protect that American Dream for more Pennsylvanians.
Strengthening the state's economy by adding good-paying jobs is one major goal, and he believes that lower taxes is a vital part of achieving that goal.
“We don't need more taxes,” Roe said. “I'd like to see a more business-friendly Pennsylvania.”
He said that he favors tort reforms to improve the business climate, and he would like to give business owners and farmers a break with fewer restrictions from the state.
He also wants to identify wasteful spending whenever possible. For example, he would like to explore the possibility of merging the duties of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Turnpike Commission that could produce savings for taxpayers.
He also supports a Republican plan to privatize the liquor stores. The sale of the liquor stores could generate revenues to be used for other things, like funding public schools. Finding cost savings in other areas could allow the state to freeze property tax rates on homes owned by senior citizens.
Roe pledged to be a strong proponent of public schools.
“We have some of the best schools in the country in this district,” he said. “People want to keep the schools that way. I will support efforts to fully fund our local schools and school districts while simultaneously promoting accountability.”
One of the major issues that state lawmakers have been unable to address thus far has been the unfunded public pension liabilities which are projected to amount to approximately $60 billion. The time to take corrective action has come.
“It won't be easy, but we have to live within our means,” Roe said. “Let's start spending money wisely and stop making promises that we can't keep.”
Roe said that he supports pension reform that would put new state employees into a defined contribution retirement plan that is widely used in the private sector. He emphasized that current state employees would receive the full benefits that they've been promised.
Roe said that he's proud of the endorsements that he's earned from the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors
“I've been endorsed by the business industry,” Roe said, adding that Rzucidlo has been endorsed by public sector unions.”
While he would love to represent the 158th District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Roe doesn't necessarily view it as a job that he should have forever. He supports the concept of term limits. As he has been visiting with district residents, many have expressed concerns about the ineffectiveness of career politicians.
“We don't need more career politicians,” he explained. “But we do need more young people taking hold of the future of Pennsylvania.”
Like a lot of people, Roe has been deeply troubled by the divisiveness and tone the 2016 Presidential campaign. The release of a controversial 2005 video in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump can be heard bragging about kissing and groping women during a conversation caught on a hot microphone certainly represented a new low for vulgarity and lewd behavior by a presidential nominee.
“I was disgusted by it,” Roe said. “I found what he said to be disgusting, and what he said absolutely doesn't reflect my values.”
Roe's mother is Mary Beth Roe, a host at QVC in West Chester. He considers her to be one of his role models—because of her success as a professional and because she is part of such a strong family with good values.
“I was horrified by Trump's treatment of women, and I say that as the son of a working mom and the husband of a working wife,” Roe said. “Women are to be respected. As a state representative, I would champion women's issues.”
One such issue would be to revisit House Resolution 75, a “concurrent resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to study the issue of workplace pay disparity, to reexamine existing Federal and State laws relating to that issue and to make recommendations to the General Assembly.”
Roe also wants to support families who rely on daycare—he noted that under one proposal favored by Gov. Wolf, a new tax would be instituted on daycare services.
“We have a lot of young families in my district,” Roe said. “Such a tax is unacceptable.”
The negativity that has dominated the Presidential campaign has certainly not been present in the 158th District race.
Rzucidlo, by all accounts an earnest and kind-hearted person who is making her fourth bid for the 158th District seat, is hardly the type of person to take the political low road. In the Primary, the state's Democratic Committee did question whether Roe had lived in Pennsylvania for the four years necessary to qualify to hold the office he is seeking.
Roe said that the politically motivated suggestion that he was not a resident of Pennsylvania for the required amount of time was an attempt to not talk about the issues that residents in the district are facing. It was, in effect, an attempt to distract the voters.
“I've been a resident of the district for 25 years. I've been a resident of Pennsylvania in every way that a person can be a resident,” he said, explaining that he held a Pennsylvania driver's license and his vehicle was registered in Pennsylvania.
“I have nothing but respect for my opponent,” Roe said. “I've run a campaign that I can be proud of. We've stayed positive. If I win on November 8, I want to be able to say that I won the right way. The voters of this district deserve a positive campaign, especially with the negativity at the top of the ballot. We need to bring civility back to government.”