Leon Spencer, the ‘purple’ candidate for Pennsylvania’s 158th District11/01/2022 02:12PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Half of the Pennsylvania State Senate and all of the State House seats will be decided this Election Day. These races matter because the Pennsylvania General Assembly makes many decisions that directly impact the businesses and constituents in the commonwealth. And with the U.S. Supreme Court already handing over responsibility to the states to decide on abortion with potentially more issues to come, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what is happening in the State House.
Because of procedural rules adopted each year, whichever party holds the majority—even if it is by only one seat-- has complete control over which bills are debated. The majority party selects all committee chairs, and those chairs choose the bills to be discussed and moved out of committee. Of all the bills that reach the floor, the Majority Leader decides which ones will have a vote. Some good bills that have significant bipartisan support never make it out of committee.
Republican Leon Spencer is running against the Democratic two-term incumbent Christina Sappey for the newly designed 158th State House seat. The district consists of the townships of East Fallowfield, East Marlborough, Kennett, New Garden, Newlin, Pocopson, West Bradford, West Marlborough, and the boroughs of Avondale and Kennett Square.
Much is known about Sappey’s positions. Since she is the incumbent, she has a four-year voting record, numerous newsletters, and press releases. She answered the League of Women Voters (www.vote411.org) and Fair Districts PA (www.fairdistrictspa.com) surveys. Her PA House website (www.pahouse.com/Sappey) and campaign site (www.christinasappeypa158.com) lay out what she has done and much of what she would like to do.
Spencer is known and highly regarded in Kennett Square Borough. They know him as a music educator, former mayor (1999-2010), and former Kennett School District board member. They may have heard him perform at events (he is a professional vocalist), announce Kennett athletic events or lead the handbell choir at the Church of the Advent. Due to his overall impact on the area, he was awarded the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce 2016 Citizen of the Year.
Not as much is known about how a Representative Spencer, should he get elected, would vote. His campaign website (www.spencerforpa.com) states some of his positions, but the League of Women Voters and Fair Districts PA surveys are unanswered as of press time.
Spencer’s views run the spectrum from conservative to progressive. He would vote to ban abortions with some exceptions, and would support gay marriage rights. He supports limiting ammunition magazine size, background checks on all guns, and permits for concealed carry, but would not vote to ban AR15-style rifles or raise their purchasing age (currently 18). He also would vote for red flag laws which allow for the temporary removal of weapons from individuals showing signs of being a danger to themselves or others, providing there is due process for the accused. He thinks legislators should be able to receive gifts but must report them. And while he prefers to raise state revenue by increasing the number of workers who pay taxes, when pressed, he said he would consider increasing the personal income tax rates in order to reduce college costs and provide better funding equity in all of the state’s public schools.
Spencer made it clear that he is open to re-examining his positions and changing his mind if new information warrants it.
“I think listening is critically important,” he said. “I don’t know that people in leadership often do that.”
Here’s more of what he said during the Oct 14 interview:
On abortion rights: “I’m pro-life with exceptions. A woman who’s been raped is a victim of crime. I believe in victims’ rights.”
Regarding allowing abortion to save the life of the mother or if there are life-threatening abnormalities of the fetus, he said, “Legislators are not medical professionals. Legislators should not be making medical decisions. Period.”
On AR15-style rifles: Spencer was clearly torn by this issue, but said he would not support a ban. He worries about the impact of active-shooter drills on school children. He expressed concern that law enforcement arriving at a crime scene can be at a disadvantage when confronted with a criminal with more firepower.
“I am adamant that the people who are hired to protect us must have their protection,” he said. “Don’t take guns out of the hands of good people. If I had my way, I would limit those weapons to military and paramilitary personnel. In reality, that’s not going to happen.”
On gifts to legislators: Currently, legislators can accept gifts without limits, and have to declare only those over certain dollar amounts. Spencer agrees, as long as they are reported. “I believe in total disclosure,” he said. “If you give me a gift as a legislator, then the public should have the opportunity to know that you gave me a gift.”
On election reform: Spencer is a strong believer in requiring ID when voting—either by mail, using a drop box, or in person. “Elections should not allow for cheating. Period. This whole election reform thing can be simply handled by supervision,” he said.
On property taxes: He said that seniors need to be protected from tax hikes. “I have no problem with property tax reform, but we need to put a freeze on at age 65,” he said.
On school taxes: He compared resources available to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District to Chester-Upland, a less economically fortunate area. “What we have to do is come up with a balanced, across-the-board funding equation that helps to ensure that all students have an opportunity for a quality education.” He realizes that redistributing funds so each student receives similar supports will not resonate in wealthy school districts and said, “But to me, that’s what you have to do.”
On college: According to Educationdata.org, the cost of a four-year public university in Pennsylvania is the third-highest in the nation. “We should be competitive with other states,” Spencer said. “Pennsylvania students shouldn’t be at a disadvantage for a secondary experience just because of the cost.”
On taxes: “We need more taxpayers, not more taxes. If we have more taxpayers then we’re obviously in a position to have more revenue to do the things we need to do.” He later added, “We have to pay attention to the labor force and provide incentives to get people to work.” He agreed that raising the minimum wage would be one such incentive.
On the minimum wage: At $7.25, Pennsylvania has the lowest minimum wage of any of its surrounding states (West Virginia is the next lowest at $8.75). “We want a competitive minimum wage that will allow for greater buying power,” Spencer said. “I would vote to increase it as long as it provides for economic competitiveness and allows for greater buying power.” When asked directly, he said he would vote for up to a $15 minimum wage provided businesses could afford it.
At the end of the interview, I asked Spencer why, based on his varied views, he is a registered Republican,
“It's in honor of my family legacy,” he said. “Plain and simple. My grandparents were Republicans, my parents were Republicans. It honors that tradition. I came from a faith-based, Christian conservative house. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the R stands for.”
He feels it’s important to communicate across party lines.
“If we’re going to make decisions that affect the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there has to be a collective opportunity to address what those issues are,” he said. “I’m a bipartisan guy. I’m purple.”