State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149), a 47-year-old who has served in the General Assembly for six years, insisted that he's running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Connie Williams (D-District 17) to reinvigorate the Democratic minority in the chamber and help get stalled health-care and environmental legislation into law.
Leach stated that, up till now, the state Senate is where good ideas have gone to die — and he plans to change that.
But his opponent, 34-year-old Lance Rogers, elected to the Lower Merion Township board of commissioners as an Independent, has charged that Leach is part of the problem of stagnation in Harrisburg. The University of Pennsylvania graduate, who has practiced law at two Center City firms, was recruited by the state Republican party, initially to run against Williams, before she announced her decision not to seek re-election.
Republicans now outnumber Democrats 29 to 21 in the Senate. Democrats, though, hold a razor-thin, one-vote majority in the House. Leach said that, within several elections, it's not impossible that the Democrats could win control of the Senate.
Rogers has run an aggressive — some would say a downright negative — campaign against Leach through press releases, mailings and even commercials.
"He's been there for six years, and a lot of the problems we face now have arisen on his watch," said Rogers. "We are just trying to get the truth out there and letting people understand what's at stake in this election."
In a separate interview, Leach — a member of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim in Wynnewood — fired back that Rogers' entire campaign rests on the notion that "Daylin is a bad guy. [Rogers] has had not one idea on the environment or on health care."
Among the shots Rogers has taken at his opponent is criticism leveled at Leach for not publicly calling on state Rep. Bill DeWeese (D-District 50) to step down as Democratic Majority leader, as other Democratic lawmakers have done. Last year, following an investigation by state Attorney General Tom Corbett, 12 people connected to the Democratic caucus were indicted in connection with $1.9 million in state funds that were allegedly improperly given to legislative aides as rewards for performing campaign-related work.
DeWeese was not indicted, although as the head of the Democratic caucus, his political reputation has suffered damage.
Leach said that, indeed, he has called for DeWeese to resign, he just didn't do it at a press conference or by issuing a release, but instead did so in private.
Despite the bitter back-and-forth, the two have offered substantive ideas about what they would like to see happen in Harrisburg.
Leach, also an attorney, said his major legislative priorities include getting health coverage for the vast number of uninsured Pennsylvanians.
"We have to make Pennsylvania a destination state for the production and the research, and the manufacturing of green technologies," said Leach. "We need to be what Napa Valley is to wine and Silicon Valley is to computer chips for green technology."
He acknowledged that the current financial crisis might make many of these goals even more difficult to obtain.
A supporter of legislation aimed to divest state funds from companies that do business in Iran and Sudan, Leach said that, if elected, he would work to move the bill through the Senate, where it has stalled since passing the House earlier this year.
Rogers takes a different approach to the divestment issue. Rather than legislate which countries should be the targeted, Rogers suggested the creation of a new review board that would make recommendations on which companies should be excluded from state pension fund holdings due to their ties with terrorist-sponsoring nations.
Rogers noted that he voted for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006, and that he supports much of Rendell's proposed "Access to Basic Care" plan, which would provide health coverage for many of Pennsylvania's uninsured.
Rogers said the state needs to create public-private partnerships to reinvest in infrastructure, such as highways and bridges, which in many parts of the state have fallen into disrepair.
"I'm the only bipartisan reformer in this race," he said; he touted his idea to offer free parking incentives to volunteer firefighters in Lower Merion as a way to avoid hiring professionals and also avoid raising taxes.
Rogers claimed that he was "somebody who can work with both sides of the aisle and somebody who is committed to shaking things up and making change."