Roe in campaign to reclaim his House seat10/28/2020 04:51PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
In an election held in November 2016, Eric Roe, then a
29-year-old rising and anointed star in the Chester County Republican Party
world of politics, was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
For the next two years, he represented the citizens of the 158th District.
On Nov. 8, 2018, Roe lost his bid for reelection to Democrat Christina Sappey by eight percentage points. He was one of 11 incumbents in the Delaware Valley to lose their seats that night, and for many who follow Chester County politics, Roe’s defeat was a jagged dagger in the heart of a party that had once ruled in a county that was dramatically turning from red to blue.
“It was emotionally draining to learn that I had just lost my dream job, which was my dream job when I entered office and it remains my dream job,” said Roe, who on Nov. 19, 2019, announced he would seek a re-match with Sappey in an election that will be decided on Nov. 3. “We just saw a true blue wave. We saw people voting for the first time, and I heard hundreds of times that the voters wanted to send a message to President Donald Trump, and they were going to send that message by voting against every single Republican on the ballot.
“That message was never received by Donald Trump. The President hardly cared at all that the U.S. House of Representatives went from red to blue, and he certainly didn’t care about the political aspirations of a 31-year-old man from central Chester County who had just lost his seat in Harrisburg. But the voters are free to vote for whomever they want to, and that is the beauty and the bane of a free country.”
As he heads into the homestretch of his campaign to regain the position he held for two years, Roe has the luxury of not having to invent his platform out of thin air. Rather, he carries with him a war chest that supports his belief that his two years in the State House made impact on issues of concern to many in the district.
On the subject of ending domestic violence, Roe co-sponsored House Bill 2060, now signed into law, which forces domestic abusers to relinquish their firearms within 24 hours of being issued a PFA (Protection from Abuse Order). Previously, those abusers had up to 60 days to turn over their guns, and they were often just handed over to a family member living nearby.
On the issue of pensions and pension reform, Roe declined the “Cadillac Pension Plan” that is reserved for state legislators and instead, helped to pass legislation to reform the state’s state pension systems and bring them closer in line with what the private sector offers by allowing current pensioners to keep their pensions.
Addressing the continued need for open space, Roe co-sponsored and passed House Bill 1037, which helps to protect preserved land by preventing eminent domain from being used to condemn it. He also co-sponsored the Growing Greener III program, an environmental stewardship fund aimed at preserving farmlands, wetlands and forestlands in Pennsylvania.
Upon hearing that Gov. Wolf and many of his Republican colleagues were proposing to cut annual state funding for the Penn Vet NewBolton Center, Roe reached out to his colleagues, stressing the importance of funding for the center, and on Oct. 15, 2017, the House voted in favor of continuing state funding to the center.
Roe also proved that he accomplished what has become nearly the unthinkable in modern politics: He reached across the aisle. In 2017, he worked with Rep. Steve Samuelson, a Democrat from Northampton County, in introducing House Bill 722, a constitutional amendment to create a citizen commission of nonpoliticians tasked with redrawing district boundary lines after each decennial census.
Now awaiting a vote in the state legislature, Roe said that if enacted, the bill would weed out the influence of lobbyists and lawmakers when district lines are being drawn for Pennsylvania, reduce the impact of any decisions by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and steer incumbents clear from choosing voters based on voter data.
“I will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion,” Roe said. “That’s the one assurance that voters want more than anything. They don’t need the bombastic ideologues. They just want to know that I will be bipartisan. Thankfully, I have a record of that.”
When asked what led him back on the campaign trail to regain the seat he lost in 2018, Roe pointed to a bill that was introduced in the House in April 2019 that would allow first-time homeowners to establish a separate, tax-free savings that would be used to purchase their first home.
“Out of the 203 members of the State House, there was only one vote against it, and that was Rep. Sappey,” Roe said. “She took to Facebook afterwards and said that the Department of Revenue urged her not to vote for the bill. That’s when I knew that her loyalties lay with the chief taxing authority in the state, rather than the people she was elected to represent.
“In that moment, I thought we have a problem on our hands. We need a representative who does not have contempt for taxpayers.”
Campaigning in a new economy
When Roe first campaigned for the House of Representatives back in 2016, the state and county’s economy began to show signs that it had rebounded from the Great Recession of 2008. The state’s unemployment rate had dropped to 3.8 percent, and total employment had reached an all-time high of 6.2 million. Locally, the county’s diverse economy was seeing growth in the sectors of finance, professional and technical services and agriculture.
In a rude reversal, Roe now dons his face mask on the campaign trail in a world that continues to measure the impact of the coronavirus not only in the number of detected cases, but on the local economy. The state’s unemployment rate, which stood at 5.8 percent in March, skyrocketed to 16.1 percent in April. While the rate has fallen steadily since, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy continues to be fierce, and its future is unknown.
While Roe sees the value of the state’s Red-Yellow-Green phase of reopening from the standpoint of health and safety, he sees the corrosive effect it has had on the state’s economy – and the huge toll it has taken on its people.
“I was talking to a state representative recently, who told me that residents in his district in Western Pennsylvania are dying -- not through COVID-19, but through drug overdoses, murders, domestic violence, that are a result of economic stress and loss of jobs,” he said.
“People die by more than just a virus, so it’s important to remember that the ramifications of shut downs go much further than we can imagine. These shut downs are not what is spoken of in the abstract. They have real ramifications for real people. We need to find the middle ground, where we listen to the scientists and also recognize that people have to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.”
If he heads back to Harrisburg, it would allow Roe to renew his commitment to COVID-19’s most vulnerable demographic -- senior citizens in the district, particularly those who have been hit hard with property taxes. If reelected, Roe will dust off a bill that he co-sponsored in his first term, that will introduce property tax reform that freezes tax rates for properties own by seniors, beginning when they turn 65.
“If they want to retire in the house they lived in their whole adult life, they should be able to do that without having to move because of higher property taxes,” he said. “They should be able to plan for retirement with the assurance that local property tax hikes won’t force them to sell their houses or their farms.”
The frog and the crane
On the Saturday after Election Day in 2018, a local artist in West Bradford Township knocked on Roe’s front door at his home in Marshallton. Roe welcomed the artist inside, and noticed that the artist was carrying a sketch he had made that he quickly presented to the Roe.
It was a sketch of a crane eating a frog. In the drawing, the frog is gripping the neck of the crane, refusing to relinquish his life to the crane. At the bottom of the drawing, it read “Don’t Ever Give Up.”
“The artist told me, ‘Eric, I’m giving this to you now, and I am expecting you to hang this in your office in Harrisburg two years from now, after you’ve run again and won again.”
Roe said that he intends to return to Harrisburg, and will bring the drawing of the frog and the crane with him.
To learn more about Eric Roe, visit www.ericroe.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].