“Daylin, Better Enough”: An Interview with Senator Daylin Leach (PA-17)

The first time I met Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach was at a rally. A member of the crowd thanked him for his work in Harrisburg, although, she admitted, she didn’t live in his district. Without missing a beat, he looked at her very seriously and replied: “Well, you could always move.”

Senator Leach has been causing trouble (and getting legislation passed) in Harrisburg since the early 2000’s. His sarcastic sensibility and unabashed progressive agenda led him to another overwhelming victory this past election cycle. He generously agreed to take time out of his busy schedule (which mostly consists of imitating other politicians and listening to himself talk) to answer a few questions.

At the beginning of your career, you were described as the politician who makes the job look fun. That moniker seems to have stuck, even more than 10 years later. Is it true? Do you really have fun at work?

I do. And I actually think that having fun is a conscious decision. I had sort of an apocalyptic childhood where I was rarely safe or even cared for. So I had to develop some strategies for self-protection. Among those were a sense of humor, which helped me to look at even the most difficult situations in a more positive light, and a firm commitment to try to find the fun in every situation where that was possible. As I got older, my life got considerably better. But I got to keep my defense mechanisms, which is awesome!

In 2005, you ran into an issue with the Philadelphia Inquirer ‘exposing’ your satirical political blog, which you eventually shut down. Millennials are going to be the first generation of politicians with lifelong use of the internet, do you have any advice as to what to post and what not to post?

That was an interesting experience. First, by way of background, when I was younger I did stand-up and sketch comedy for a number of years. Then, I formed an improv comedy troupe that performed at the Adrienne Theater in Philadelphia every Friday night. Comedy saved my life as a kid, and its one of my few gifts. So I started writing the blog years before I ever ran for office. Some of the jokes the Inquirer wrote about were 20 years old even back then. When the story broke I couldn’t believe it was on the front page of the Inquirer for several days. I mean, really? Ironically, the reporter who wrote the story later told me that my comedy routine at the gridiron dinner (which I do every year), was the “funniest thing he’d ever seen”

What I regret about the incident is actually being as contrite as I was pressured to be. I think comedy is a force for good in what could be a very dark world. I also thought that people actually appreciate politicians who are real human beings, rather than being blow-dried, breathing talking points. So now, I use humor a lot in my job. It is amazingly helpful. People listen to my speeches with more interest, I can diffuse tense situations and put people at ease. That doesn’t mean I’m not deadly serious when its required, and I think my accomplishments show that I am very effective. But after that incident I decided to be myself. And if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to vote for me.

So, to answer your question, people should post what is in their heart and on their mind. Full stop.

You recently called President Trump a ‘fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon’ in a tweet. This is indicative of your humorous attitude both online and in person. Do you think humor/sarcasm is an effective way to deal with our new reality of alternative facts?

 Well, first of all, I’m half Scottish. And they are the masters of the humorous insult. So I drew upon my heritage for that one. But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling funny, I was actually furious when I wrote that.

One of the issues I am working hard to promote is civil asset forfeiture reform. I won’t get into details here, but asset forfeiture is one of the more horrific injustices in our criminal justice system. There was a meeting at the White House of sheriffs from Texas. One of them said that a Senator from his state was trying to eliminate civil asset forfeiture. Trump said “Tell us his name. We’ll ruin his career”. This was someone in the same job I have, doing the same thing I am doing, and the President wants to ruin his career because he is fighting to correct a gross injustice. I was absolutely livid. Trump clearly knows absolutely nothing about the issue, and beyond that is just a bully, and I had enough.

I would note that I am not known for using strong language in my public discourse or debates. But I deliberately chose that term because I wanted to find some way to make the point that this is not normal! The biggest danger is that all of Trump’s insanity is that it becomes normalized over time. And I am willing to take whatever political hit necessary to keep making the point that we should not allow any of this to be considered, acceptable, or within the range of normal human behavior. And, I do think it was effective. Much to my surprise, the shit-gibbon became a national sensation. We received literally hundreds of thousands of responses from around the world. If I kept Trump from being normalized for 10 minutes, or gave comfort to one person panicked about the future of our democracy, I can die happy.  

The Philly Voice recently ran an article showing, what they called, ‘a sampling of your best tweets’. What is your response to critics who say you should spend less time tweeting and more time governing.

It’s fair to dislike my tweets. Everybody has different tastes. But if the issue is that they take too much time, that’s just silly. I tweet on average once per day. That takes me about 90 seconds. And I’ve introduced and passed more important progressive legislation than any other legislator in decades, along with all of the other things that I do. Even my biggest detractors don’t claim that I’m lazy or unproductive. In fact, they wish I were.

In 2014 you ran for the open Congressional seat in the 13th district, but were unsuccessful in the primary. Rumors are swirling that you may announce your candidacy for the 7th Congressional district. If you did decide to run, what would you to say to voters concerned with this switch?

Well, I would note that I do live in the 7th district and have for 19 years. You are not required to live in you congressional district, and the founders did that deliberately so people couldn’t be gerrymandered out of running for a seat like they can at the state level. I was a bit impulsive in 2014, but there are national issues I am profoundly interested in and I believe I can make a real contribution to Congress. I only lived about 100 yards from the 13th district, I grew up in Northeast Philly and I represented a good part of the 13th, so I thought I had a reasonable case to make regarding a connection to the district. But once there were 3 Montgomery County candidates and only one Philadelphia County candidate, it became impossible to win. But I think that ultimately I should, and will be judged on my record, my achievements, my failures, and my vision of the future. And I’m fine with that.

Your Twitter bio says you’re ‘Like Gandhi, only less’. Will this be your next campaign slogan?

Well, its funny you should mention that. We’re kicking around a lot of ideas. How does this sound: Daylin, better enough! Still need some tweaking? I guess I can see that.

Dylan Kristine is a runner, frequent-flyer, and amateur historian transplanted from New England. Currently she lives outside of Philadelphia and works with non-profit agencies. She has Bachelor’s degrees in Creative Writing and Economics and a Master’s degree in Holocaust/Genocide studies. When she is living her best life, her t-shirts are snarky, her coffee is endless, and she is talking about her favorite president, John Adams.
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