Sappey seeks reelection to 158th District seat in Harrisburg10/28/2020 04:27PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has not left
Chester County and the residents of the 158th Legislative District
behind – and perhaps because of it – 2020 has been a busy year for Rep.
Christina Sappey, who has represented the district in the Pennsylvania House of
Representatives for the past two years.
In June, on the heels of the social unrest that had begun to grip the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police just a week before, she invited residents in the district to her virtual panel discussion entitled “Examining Race and Institutionalized Disadvantage in Our Community.”
In August, she announced that several Chester County schools and school districts would be the recipients of $254,487 in Governor’sEmergency Education Relief funds and Pennsylvania Department of Education federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In September, she invited district residents to a series of virtual panel discussions on race, entitled “Institutionalized Disadvantage: Law Enforcement, The Community and Healing.”
Earlier this month, she announced that several Fire Company and Emergency Medical Service grants were approved for local companies, totaling $276,203 to offset expenses accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, she announced that a $1.5 million Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 2020 Community Conservation Partnerships Program grant has been approved to acquire approximately 163 acres to help establish a public park at the location of the former Embreeville State School and Hospital.
As she campaigns for reelection to the House against Republican Eric Roe – who had served in the seat before being defeated by her in 2018 – Sappey, a Democrat, faces the uphill challenge of helping to navigate her district through the backdrop of a COVID-19 pandemic that has to date killed 375 county residents, and an economic downturn that has forced the state’s leaders to find ways to get Pennsylvania back to work.
Recently, Sappey participated in an email interview with the Chester County Press.
Gov. Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine were loudly criticized earlier this year for what many believed was an ineffective method of reopening Pennsylvania during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this shutdown, several businesses in your district either had to close, reduce staff or rely on loans in order to survive. Did you agree with their decision, and what have you told your constituents whose businesses and livelihoods have suffered as a result of this decision?
Sappey: I agreed with the early move to shut down. I think it was effective in keeping our numbers down; however, the waiver process was confusing to say the least. I spent a great deal of time in those first few months listening and helping to get clarification for certain industries and local businesses. I’ve said this a lot, but throughout this pandemic, we’ve been learning how to fly a plane while flying a plane.
Because I am not a doctor, I have had to go with the information scientists are providing us and fight to balance this information with the economic reality. I continue to keep open lines of communication with our business community and rely on their input to make decisions, and I hope to continue to do that to get us through this.
While there have been many loan and grant programs established in Chester County to help keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic, there is the growing realization that the county – and the nation – is headed for a severe recession, as early as 2021. In your website, you state that “A strong, reliable economy helps create jobs. Jobs create opportunity for our families.”
If reelected, what initiatives will you create -- or support – that will stimulate the local economy during its recovery from the effects of COVID-19?
Sappey: The commonwealth has been operating under a significant structural deficit for some time. We have been avoiding dealing with this in a number of ways including raiding mutually agreed to funds, such as recycling, unfortunately. The economic impact of the pandemic on top of this deficit will be sizable, and we are going to have to make very difficult decisions.
I believe it will be imperative to maintain or reduce the personal tax burden, particularly for the unemployed and seniors. I will also support job growth opportunities for industries that want to come to Pennsylvania willing to invest in workforce training, infrastructure and a commitment to reduction of carbon emissions. As a legislator with a 100 pdercent environmental score card, I strongly believe we need to do more to shift to a clean energy economy, and that’s a win for all of us.
In June and July, you held virtual panel discussions on gerrymandering and systemic racism. What led to the creation of these three forums, and how will you continue to address -- and quite possibly, reduce -- gerrymandering and systemic racism in the state and in your district?
Sappey: I believe that real change can only begin when we do the work to understand root causes. Like many of us, I am deeply troubled by continued incidents of police violence and ongoing racism, so I have sought to convene the difficult conversations I believe need to occur before we can chart a course forward. In our first panel, we discussed the origins of prejudice and ways for good, well intentioned people to search their hearts and minds for ways to change.
In our second panel, we explored historic racism in our major institutions such as education, housing, healthcare and the judicial system. We also discussed how gerrymandering cements racism by dividing resources and communities.
Our third event included members of the faith community and law enforcement. I am proud to be endorsed by Chester County FOP Lodge 11 and we share a commitment to strong communities and open lines of communication to end division.
I will continue to hold these panel discussions if re-elected because this is an endurance endeavor. It’s taken a long time to get here, so we have to invest the time to bring about change. I also commit to pushing for fair redistricting in 2021. I’d like to think that redistricting reform would happen before the end of the legislative term Nov 30, but legislation to address gerrymandering seems unlikely to be voted on at this point.
You have served on several committees and caucuses in Harrisburg, focusing on issues as far-ranging as agriculture and rural affairs, to climate change to women’s health -- and several more. Of those affiliations, where do you feel you have made the largest impact in your two years as a legislator, in terms of making the lives of your constituents better?
Sappey: As a legislator, I get to work on numerous issues facing Pennsylvanians; however, I think my work around infrastructure and stormwater management has been particularly impactful this term. I have been able to utilize information I receive as a member of the Climate Caucus, the House Local Government Committee and the Local Government Commission to work with residents, municipalities and PennDot to address pressing property and roadway needs.
Frequent strong storms, increased flooding and our aging, deteriorating infrastructure require urgent attention and a collaborative approach, which I believe we are delivering.
You also serve on the Autism & Intellectual Disabilities Caucus, and on your watch, special needs students in Chester County are benefitting from a $254,487 grant through the state and the Individuals with Disabilities Act. What leads you to pursue opportunities for those with physical and mental challenges?
Sappey: A mother’s heart and my experience as a staff person to members of the House and Senate Education committees, and importantly the House Special Education sub-committee. I strongly believe we have an opportunity every day to impact the trajectory of a child’s life. How we do this can take on many forms, but it starts with one caring adult and the creation of inclusive learning environments.
I have worked with a lot of families over the years, and whether the issue was a disability, a learning issue or an adverse childhood experience the common denominator has always been a need for acceptance and opportunity. I will always seek to remove barriers to that end.
Quite often for a state legislator in the minority party in Harrisburg, it is difficult to navigate the waters of partisan gridlock. Describe an example of how you have been able to enact across-the-aisle legislation or cooperation with your Republican colleagues.
Sappey: Early in 2019, I started looking across the aisle for a partner to work on a trauma informed education bill with. This is an issue that I have worked on for many years and it had momentum, so the timing was good to get it done.
I had a hard time finding a Republican interested in this, but I eventually found someone. We then worked with a Democrat and Republican over in the senate, so we were able to move the legislation simultaneously in both chambers and ultimately had the governor sign it. I’m proud of this accomplishment, and even prouder that we all did it together.
To learn more about Rep. Christina Sappey, visit www.ChristinaSappeyPA158.com
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].