LOWER MERION, Pa. (WLVT) - It’s been called the most contentious state race in the Philadelphia suburbs.
For the last 12 years, Sen. Daylin Leach has held the 17th District seat and served as an elected official in Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years. His opponent, Amanda Cappelletti, has racked up a ‘’who’s who’’ list of endorsements, including Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeliene Dean, whose respective districts encompass the 17th.
''I have a lot of hands-on experience with legislation and advocacy and with legislators themselves,'' Cappelletti told PBS39. ''I developed relationships with many of them, through those experiences.''
Cappelletti is an attorney whose experience in Harrisburg includes time working for state Rep. Donna Bullock and as a policy director at Planned Parenthood.
THE RACE IS ON
She says her biggest motivation in running for the seat is disappointment in current leadership.
''It became apparent that my current state senator became ineffective, because he’s created, and admitted to creating, an inappropriate, and sexually charged, work environment for his employees and others,'' she said. ''I just knew I couldn’t vote for him.''
Last year, Leach underwent a nine month investigation into allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior, including allegations that he inappropriately touched former female staffers and made sexualized jokes. The report, commissioned by Senate Democrats, concluded that his conduct fell short of violating federal discrimination law.
''They say they spoke to every one of my employees, past and present, and every one of them said I was a pleasure to work for and that they never saw any problems,'' Leach told PBS39. ''So, I would tell people, any concerns, you can talk to me, you can read the report, and I think those concerns would be alleviated.''
The allegations caused Leach to lose the support of some Democrats across the state. Still, he says he’s proud of his track record in Harrisburg.
''The experience I bring to the job is important, and also, my willingness to do things that are unpopular, like introducing the first marriage equality bill in Pennsylvania’s history, and my legalization of medical marijuana bill, my bill on death with dignity, and my work on the death penalty and criminal justice reform, which no one would touch when I got in,'' he said.
GOVERNING DURING A PANDEMIC
Right now, Leach says his main focus is on pandemic recovery.
''We’ve helped almost 3,000 people now with things like unemployment, small business loans, things like that,'' said Leach. ''I go out and distribute PPE equipment and I literally go out and deliver them myself, I make 2-3 hours worth of deliveries a day.''
If elected, Cappelletti would be a junior member of the senate -- and entering during a major health crisis. Health coverage for Pennsylvanians who are out of work, she says, would be a front burner issue.
''We need a public option here in Pennsylvania, because we’ve seen that our unemployment numbers are rising, at numbers we haven’t seen in decades, and that means that people are losing their employer-based health insurance. If something goes wrong in their life, and they need to seek medical care for something that’s not Covid-19 related, those people likely don’t have health insurance to cover those costs,'' she said.
MINIMUM WAGE RAISE AS PANDEMIC RECOVERY
Last week, Gov Wolf said he plans to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour as part of his pandemic recovery plan for the Commonwealth. Both Democrats agree with the move.
''To the extent that we’re enacting policies to the Covid situation, I want to enact policies that bring the workers along, and I think that the minimum wage is a part of that,'' said Leach.
''I wish Republican legislators would have moved to do this before the pandemic, so that families would have had a much stronger financial position before this crisis,'' said Cappelletti. ''Instead, we’re being reactionary.''
Ellen Fisher, who is running unopposed on the Republican side of the ticket, does not agree with the governor’s minimum wage plan.
''Now is not the time to put in new regulations to burden businesses,'' Fisher told PBS39. ''Clearly, Pennsylvanians have been suffering. We need to ease and end the suffering. It’s about getting people back to work and replacing relief checks with actual paychecks.''
TIME TO VOTE
Fisher has organized education initiatives for the Haverford Township School District, and created business programs for women and youth in her community. Like Cappelletti, she says she’s running because of concerns about Leach.
''[I’m running] as a result of his unfitting behavior, and his own party has not been able to get rid of him, so I thought, I would try,'' said Fisher.
The Pennsylvania primary election is Tuesday, June 2, 2020. All mail-in ballots must be received at polling locations by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
You can learn more about the candidates on their websites: