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September 2005 > Words

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In Their Own Words

Each "In Their Own Words" column features a prominent politician speaking directly to our readers on issues of concern to the Jewish community.

Last month we interviewed Lois Murphy who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th district against the incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach. In July we interviewed Chuck Pennacchio who is running against Bob Casey in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate. Stay tuned for an article from the Casey camp.

This month we feature Pennsylvania State Representative Daylin Leach.

Pennsylvania State Representative Daylin Leach Daylin Leach

PJV: Daylin, thanks for agreeing to speak with us. You are Representative of the 149th Legislative District including Upper Merion, West Conshohocken, and parts of Lower Merion Township. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself, your background, and what made you decide to enter politics?

DL: Well, I was born in Philadelphia in 1961, so I was really coming into my first state of awareness as the civil rights movement was coming to a head. I remember seeing reports about African Americans being beaten at lunch counters or while protesting. This had a profound and lasting impact on my impressionable young mind. From the age of seven I knew that I wanted to in some way be involved in the great battles of my time. 

PJV: I believe you are a member of Main Line Reform.  Please tell us more about your involvement in the Jewish community?

DL: My mother is Jewish and I never met my father who was not. But I do have his last name which is obviously not a Jewish name. As a result I hear a lot of things that people with more Jewish names do not. I am reminded frequently that anti-Semitism still exists in this country. 

I was very committed to my Jewish education when I was young. I worked a paper route and largely paid for my Hebrew education myself. I became a Bar Mitzvah at an orthodox synagogue (Congregation Sons of Israel) in Allentown, but as I got older I found myself more comfortable in a reform setting. I am a member of Main Line Reform in Wynnewood and am active in the brotherhood. I am also currently on the Board of Directors of the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center. 

PJV: What are your current projects in the State House?

DL: My areas of focus include the environment. I was one of three prime sponsors in the House of a piece of legislation called "Growing Greener 2" which directed a good deal of money towards environmental clean-up and open space preservation. Also, recently a bill of mine was enacted which requires the state to start buying hybrid vehicles for their fleet. Twenty five percent of all new state vehicle purchases in Pennsylvania will be hybrid by 2011.

I have also focused on women's health issues. I have three bills, including a proposal to expand access to mammograms for poor women which just passed the House. I have also authored a Contraceptive Equity bill which prohibits sexual discrimination in health insurance, and the Access to Emergency Contraceptives Act which helps victims of sexual assault avoid unwanted pregnancy. 

I would also mention that I have introduced a bill to reform the way we draw the new legislation district lines every ten years. Gerrymandering has almost eliminated competitive legislative elections in this state and in this nation. It's really the biggest political problem we face. 

PJV: What is your position with regard to Israel?

DL: I am a strong supporter of Israel and for the past three years I have been the author on the House Resolution celebrating the birth of Israel. After it passes the House each year I get the resolution framed and sent to a different synagogue in my district. 

I also believe that Israel has been America's best friend in the world over the past half-century. We have a moral, political, and spiritual obligation to ensure that Israel is safe and secure. 

PJV: Condoleezza Rice praised Israel's pullout from the Gaza strip but called for further pullouts saying "It cannot be Gaza alone". What was your reaction to the Gaza withdrawal and the Bush administration's comments?

DL: I am reluctant to second-guess a decision taken by Ariel Sharon and approved by the cabinet, but I must confess to a certain ambivalence about the unilateral withdrawal. I understand the reasons for it, but I do worry that it will be interpreted by some as evidence that terror ultimately works. 

PJV: How should Israel react if the withdrawal fails to create stability and reduce terrorism?

DL: I believe that Israel, like the United States, reserves the right to take any action, political, diplomatic, economic, or military, in order to secure the safety of its citizens. If the withdrawal does not create stability and reduce terrorism then other options have to be considered. Everything is legitimately on the table in my view. 

PJV: Should we have gone to war against Iraq? And now that we are in Iraq what should we do next?

DL: I originally supported the war in Iraq. I was not a fan of President Bush, but I felt that if he was being honest that Saddam really did have weapons of mass destruction and ties to Osama bin-Laden then we really had no choice. 

Since the war started, however, additional facts have come out. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview that the administration did not go to war for the stated reason, but that they just pushed the WMD angle because they "thought it would sell". It also turns out that there were no real links between Saddam and Al-Quaeda.

Now we are in a situation where Americans (not to mention innocent civilian Iraqis) are dying every day. There was never any thought given to winning the peace. Just this week it was reported that Iraq has now become a haven for terrorists, and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has said it reminds him of the quagmire of Viet Nam. 

Knowing what I know now, I would never have supported the war. 

PJV: Is there anything we can do to prevent Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran from supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region?

DL: Well one good idea would be to stop supporting and propping up illegitimate regimes that have a history of winking at terrorism. Our relationship to Saudi Arabia over the past 30 years has been a scandal. Our message should be clear: "If you support hate-spewing maddrasses, you are not our friend." 

PJV: Let's talk about the separation between church and state and school voucher programs. How do you think the nomination of Justice Roberts will impact these issues? Should Pennsylvania adopt a voucher program?

DL: I oppose vouchers for lots of reasons. First, they are a huge new government program that has no funding source. So I am concerned that the money will have to come from public education. We should be working to improve public education rather than weakening it. 

Also, as a product of public schools, I believe that our public education system is a terrific melting pot where people are exposed to and learn to deal with people who are different from them. I fear the ultimate result (if not the ultimate goal) of vouchers is a community of small, balkanized, homogeneous private schools where people never learn tolerance. As a member of a religious minority, that troubles me. 

As for Judge Roberts, everything I have read about him leads me to believe that he will not be a supporter of the wall of separation between church and state. As a Jew, I am very troubled by that. He would be the 4th anti-separation vote on the Supreme Court. If they get a 5th and allow coerced prayer back into public schools, you can bet that it won't be the Shema. 

PJV: Senator Rick Santorum is running for reelection in a little over a year. What kind of job has he done for Pennsylvania?

DL: To be blunt; apocalyptic. I mentioned earlier in the interview that issues surrounding civil rights were what motivated me get involved in politics. I think the way he has deliberately and unapologetically demeaned gay people is obscene. You have to look pretty deeply into the speeches of people like George Wallace or Lestor Maddox to find things they said which were more offensive to African Americans than Senator Santorum's "man on dog" comment was about gay people. 

Beyond that, I think his policies in relation to women's rights, poverty, the environment, and so forth, are all very reactionary. 

A couple of my Jewish friends have flirted with supporting Mr. Santorum because he is "good on Israel." I respectfully disagree with them. Mr. Santorum's biblically based view of the world says that Israel must exist for Jesus to return to earth. That is why certain evangelicals are "pro-Israel," but read the end of the story. What must happen to Jews under this belief system in order to have Jesus return? Let's just say it isn't pretty. People who support the existence of Israel for that reason are, in my view, no friends of Israel or the Jewish people. 

PJV: What can the Democrats do to best ensure his defeat?

DL: I have strong feelings about this. As a Democrat, I think that our biggest weakness is our insistence on purity. If someone agrees with us only 95% of the time, that is often not good enough. That's why many liberals didn't vote for Hubert Humphrey and we got Richard Nixon. That is why people voted for Ralph Nader and now we have George W. Bush. 

I had a woman literally call me from a "Dump Santorum" rally to tell me that she wasn't going to vote for Casey. She is a lovely woman but has a very poorly developed sense of irony. Republicans, to their credit "get it." They vote for people who they disagree with on some things for the greater good. That is why Arlen Specter was reelected.

Bob Casey is a good man who is a solid liberal on 90% of the issues most Democrats care about. But the only way we win is if we can live with the 10% of issues on which we disagree. This is a major test of our political maturity. 

PJV: Thank you for your time. Do you have any parting comments?

DL: Thank you for the opportunity. This is a tremendous public service which I wish more of the press would participate in.