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
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
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.
strong storms, increased flooding and our aging, deteriorating infrastructure
require urgent attention and a collaborative approach, which I believe we are
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
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
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].