Candidates are beginning to emerge in the 160th Legislative District, where longtime state Rep. Steve Barrar, a Republican, has decided to call it quits after nearly a quarter century in the seat.
“I had always been interested in running for it, but I wasn’t going to run against Steve,” said Upper Chichester Republican Committee Secretary Amber Bennett, who threw her hat in the ring last week. “I sort of lined myself up to come to the doorway, but I halted at local politics because I thought Steve has done great for the 160th and I wanted to work with him instead of against him.”
Bennett, 37, who began working with Barrar over the summer as secretary of the 160th Leadership Team, said she got involved in local politics about seven years ago.
Barrar, who will step down after 24 years in the state House this year, approached her in October for a possible run and Bennett said she told him she was “all in” around Thanksgiving, after speaking about it with her three children and husband, Mark.
Bennett said she brings a somewhat unique perspective as the project and fiscal manager for Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, where she is responsible for reporting to state and federal officials on every dollar spent in a $53 million-dollar budget. That allows her to know not only what works in legislation, but also whether it is effective on the ground, she said.
Autism is a special area of concern for Bennett and she said she believes she would be able to help get more dollars out to the community if elected by streamlining services and cutting through red tape. As the granddaughter and wife of military service members, she said she would also work to ensure veterans and their families receive the services they need.
Rounding out Bennett’s platform are the intertwined issues of tax stabilization and welfare. She said she hopes to reinvigorate the “welfare to work” program so that those in crisis can still receive funds when they need them, but the state is not unnecessarily dolling out money to those who are able to earn for themselves.
“It can’t sustain the way that it works now,” said Bennett, who holds a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from Penn State Brandywine and a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on policy and ethics from Strayer University. “When you’re in need and you need that extra helping hand, it can be there, we’ll get you back on your feet so you’re not depending on the state to make ends meet, but not having this mindset of, ‘Oh well, I can always just get welfare.’”
Barrar said several other Republicans have also signaled their willingness or intent to run for the seat, but none returned calls seeking comment by Tuesday. Republican hopefuls are expected to meet with committee people Jan. 16 and make their pitches, he said, and the committee will vote to endorse one of them a week later by secret ballot.
The Democratic side of the ballot is meanwhile shaping up to be a repeat of the 2018 primary election, with Kennett Square attorney Anton Andrew again taking on Cathy Spahr, leader of the Upper Chichester Democratic Committee. Andrew defeated Spahr in the 2018 primary before losing in the General Election to Barrar, 15,880 votes to 15,052.
The 160th District covers parts of Chester and Delaware counties. The district includes Kennett Square, Pennsbury, and Pocopson Townships in Chester County, as well as Chadds Ford, Concord, Bethel and part of Upper Chichester townships in Delaware County.