Representatives Leach and Shapiro Address JSPAN Fifth Annual Meeting

Reported by Ken Myers, Vice President and Program Chair At JSPAN’s annual membership meeting on May 19, State Representatives Daylin Leach and Josh Shapiro presented their views on the experience of the new generation of young Jewish politicians. Shapiro, completing two terms in the State House, explained his interest in politics with the proverb, “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” Although their backgrounds differ markedly - Leach worked his way up from poverty -both became lawyers, and as the discussion ensued, expressed many shared views. Board member Randy Schulz, moderator for the evening, asked how their religion and background influenced their political experience. Both Leach and Shapiro acknowledged that “diversity” among Pennsylvania communities raises challenges for legislators. Shapiro stated that it is necessary to recognize differences in viewpoint, if legislative progress is to be made. He noted the need for tolerance. Leach pointed to tougher election campaigns, less bipartisanship, and less civility in political debate. How do the candidates respond to single-issue voters? Shapiro stated that the single issue Israel voter simply misses the issues that drive state politics. Leach explained that some single issues are “deal breakers,” giving as examples Zionism and the separation of church and state. Leach noted that church-state separation has to be defended in the courts, not in the Legislature where intrusions of religion into government are too likely to be tolerated. Important legislative issues discussed by the speakers included divestment legislation, health insurance and redistricting (see below). Representative Shapiro explained the opportunities to withdraw large balances of state pension and public funds from companies that support Iran, the Sudan and other problematic governments. Representative Leach gave his evaluation of the prospects for the ABC health insurance bill, designed to broaden the availability and reduce the cost of coverage for the uninsured. Although it passed the House, the bill faces a difficult time in the Senate. Rep. Leach has been a leader in the effort to address gerrymandered election districts in Pennsylvania. Redistricting legislation may successfully emerge from Committee, according to Leach, but will face a difficult battle on the House floor (he explained that redistricting is an “existential” issue for many legislators, determining their electability). Rep. Mike Gerber, scheduled to appear, was unable to participate because of illness in his family.