Elizabeth Fiedler- Candidate for State Representative 184th
Questionnaire Responses by Elizabeth Fiedler
What do you value most about the 184th district and why do you want to represent it in the state legislature?
Above all, in our district, I value the people. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and am proud to make my home with so many kind and good people in South Philadelphia. Our neighborhood in South Philly has served as home to so many generations of migrants and immigrants — many of whom fled persecution, discrimination, famine and war — and I value our diversity of cultures and backgrounds. When I’m walking, often with my two young children, we are regularly greeted with a hello and a wave from people we pass in the neighborhood: Olga on the steps of her house on Tasker Street, Anthony down the block, Armando in front of his bakery, and Chuck and his Chihuahua at the park. Exchanging greetings with people we pass is so common that my 3 year old son notices and asks why when we don’t say hi to someone. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that all our neighbors have the same opportunities to succeed and thrive in life, regardless of race, class and ethnicity. I am glad that my children are growing up in a neighborhood, and will attend a school, that reflects the diversities of our city and our nation.
In addition, I value how easy it is to walk or travel by bus around the neighborhood, and to visit parks, stores and friends nearby.
2. How do you plan to incorporate grassroots movements into your campaign, and long-term community organizing and participation into your governance if elected?
Ours is truly a grassroots, people-powered campaign, driven by small donors. We will win this race because of the dedication of volunteers, including many people who are getting involved for the first time or for the first time in a long time. We are dedicated to helping volunteers develop skills as organizers during this campaign, so they can continue to step up as leaders in community organizations and in future electoral campaigns. This group of volunteers is diverse in age and race and we are working hard to ensure we are inclusive of people from the different economic, racial and cultural communities within the district.
After taking office, I am dedicated to keeping community members engaged, holding myself accountable, and building our long-term movement to represent working people’s interests. I will hold bi-monthly community assemblies in the district so I have the time to speak face-to-face with residents about what they want to see in our neighborhood and how I can help make that happen. I am also interested in incorporating participatory budgeting so that residents have a direct say in how money is spent.
3. If you have served as an elected official before, what services have you delivered to residents across your district? If you have never served as an elected official, what services do you want to deliver and how will you do so?
I have not served as an elected official before. I believe my life and work experience and commitment to everyone in our community prepare me well to serve our district. I am dedicated to introducing and supporting legislation that will truly improve the lives of working families and neighborhoods in the 184th. That includes ensuring we all have access to affordable, quality healthcare and the full funding of schools that are under local control.
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and am comfortable and well-versed in speaking with people from different parts of the state and different political backgrounds. I will talk with lawmakers from across PA about the shared very basic human needs of our constituents. I will also speak directly to residents from other parts of the state who share many of our same basic human needs for education and healthcare. I will draft and co-sponsor legislation to this effect, and in addition will demand publicly that my colleagues work to also represent the true desires and needs of everyone they serve.
I will also be present in the neighborhood: connecting residents to services, holding town hall meetings, exploring the use of participatory budgeting, and hosting community enrollment sessions for Medicare/Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. I will make excellent constituent services a cornerstone of my presence in the 184th. This need has long gone unmet in our community.
4. In recent years, Pennsylvania has had enormous trouble passing a budget. What are your budgetary priorities, what revenue sources would you seek, and how will you move these measures through the Republican-dominated legislature?
I am committed to establishing an economy that works for all of us in Pennsylvania. I am enraged and frustrated by the regular budget standoffs in Harrisburg, that demand so much attention and time just to preserve basic services. These annual displays of partisan gridlock are distracting us from accomplishing more progressive legislative goals and from addressing systemic problems. My top budget priorities are fully-funding our schools and making universal healthcare a reality for every Pennsylvanian.
I strongly support the Fair Share Tax Plan, which would raise $2.5 billion to close the structural deficit and provide additional funding for education. In terms of generating revenue, the Plan is common sense: it increases taxes on the very richest residents and lowers them on the vast majority of Pennsylvanians, including almost everyone in South Philadelphia. In the long-term, I support a PA constitutional amendment overturning the “uniformity clause” that shelters the super-rich from paying their fair share.
My personal background and work experience prepare me well to go to Harrisburg to fight for working families. I’m the daughter of two union public school teachers and I grew-up in a family and a rural town where more conservative politics are the norm. I am used to interacting with people from different political backgrounds, and listening respectfully, to find common ground. This sort of good faith, human discussion is essential to moving beyond the political gridlock that’s fueled by partisan divides and urban vs. rural divisions. For too long we have allowed politicians to repeat these false divisions, often for political gain. I love Philadelphia and I love the rural areas of our state. I will take this passion with me to Harrisburg and use it to connect with leaders from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the urban-rural divide. We must find a way to make these human connections so that we can pass legislation that benefits working families and communities.
5. Philadelphia remains the most impoverished major city and about 75% of our residents lack bachelor’s degrees. What policies would you implement to ensure that decent, high-paying jobs created here are accessible to the majority of our population, not just the relatively well-educated and already well off?
First, I believe that we need to meet all people’s basic human needs — healthcare, childcare, retirement, elder care — outside of employment so that we aren’t reliant on the mercy of bosses to give us the tools we need to survive. While the need for high quality jobs is absolutely critical, too often it is exploited by big developers and corporations, sparking a race to the bottom that doesn’t, in the end, even create livable jobs for the people who most need them.
We must create high-quality jobs for everyone in our community. I have spoken with many small businesses owners in South Philadelphia and have heard from them how hard it is to survive in the current system. I will support legislation that helps small business owners who create livable jobs. Too often the prospect of luring large corporations is a primary focus, but small businesses usually employ locally and keep dollars in our communities. I also believe we should explore creating a program in Pennsylvania, similar to the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, that puts people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, upgrading and rebuilding our state and local parks, and reforesting rural spaces.
Education is also part of the equation. While “better skills” alone will not be enough, higher education is a critical economic driver. We must make college affordable at state universities, community colleges, and technical schools — and develop equally strong workforce attachment programs for the half of high school students who will not go to college.
6. Philadelphia’s school district has been under partial state control since 2001. Do you support maintaining the School Reform Commission? Why or why not?
I strongly support dismantling the School Reform Commission. I believe Philadelphia residents should have control of the schools that educate Philadelphia children. Ours is the only school district in the Commonwealth without local control. This is disempowering and undemocratic. It is also unnecessary. It is clear that the academic and financial success that was promised when Harrisburg took control has not become a reality. Instead, the voices of Philadelphians are being silenced on one of the most important issues in our communities and our society: the education of our children.
7. Approximately 33% of Philadelphia students are enrolled in charter schools. What is your position on the expansion of charter schools? Should they be given public money via vouchers or similar programs (like ESAs)? What role do you think public schools play in our city?
We should institute a charter expansion moratorium in Philadelphia until, at the very least, charters are held to equal standards of accountability and a long-term financial health assessment is conducted. High-quality charter schools have a place in our public education system, but our charter school law must be fixed to ensure all schools receive sufficient funding, all children are treated justly, and communities have a voice in the academic activities in their own backyards. Additionally, PA’s cyber charters are among the lowest performing schools in the state. They have received more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars yet have not improved our education system.
Education savings accounts (ESAs) represent the latest attempt to divert taxpayer dollars out of public schools and into private coffers. The privatization of our public education system is a terrifying prospect, drawing support from big-money ultra-conservative groups such as the American Federation for Children and the American Legislative Exchange Council. We cannot allow PA lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of Arizona, Mississippi and others that have opened the door, threatening to drastically change our state’s K-12 education landscape by siphoning away a fifth of the state’s public school resources.
I believe we must change the current funding system that takes resources from one group of children and gives them to another. I support revitalizing traditional neighborhood public schools that serve all of us and anchor and enrich our communities. School is one of the largest experiences that forms us, prepares us for adulthood, and defines and binds our communities. In a society with as much wealth as ours, our public schools should be like palaces. As a parent, I find anything less unacceptable.
We must fix our broken educational funding system and increase state school spending (we’re currently ninth worst in the nation) to stop punishing poorer rural and urban districts. I also support the greater workplace protections and accountability of traditional public schools, recognizing the importance of unionized teachers empowered to engage all students meaningfully, rather than teaching to standardized tests.
8. What policies would you advocate to expand and strengthen the labor movement in Pennsylvania? How would you fortify existing unions in the event of a state or nationwide right-to-work law? How would you expand worker representation and power in sectors with low union density?
The right-to-work legislation poses a real threat to the lives of workers. We must dedicate ourselves to strengthening existing unions, winning representation for more workers. It must be workers, who live and work in the center of this struggle, who are prioritized as decision-makers, with the goal of getting members more engaged and willing to take action including attending meetings, striking, and supporting politicians who truly represent their needs. My role as a politician will be to support and elevate these worker-led efforts.
We must support leaders and politicians who call “right-to-work” what it truly is: a vicious, back-door attack on the health and survival of people. These laws are not about giving people a choice, but are directly aimed at weakening unions’ finances and making it more difficult for them to organize. We must do a better job of making that clear to Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians and Americans. And, especially for those who are not yet union members, we must also talk about the fact that all our lives as working people are better because of unions: unionization is connected with higher wages for all middle class workers and lower income inequality. Meanwhile, in right-to-work states, workers earn $1,500 less per year, and are less likely to get health insurance or pensions from their employers. Both my parents are proud union members and I can guarantee you that I will not give up this fight.
We must work to expand worker representation and power in sectors with low union density by supporting efforts in industries that haven’t been previously organized, including campaigns like Fight for $15. At the state level, I believe that projects the state invests in should create good middle class jobs, not only on the construction site but for the long term. I support the expansion of prevailing wage provisions particularly on projects that the state subsidizes.
9. Will you commit to fighting for funding to expand Medically-Assisted Treatment, mental health, and community-based programs to support people struggling with addictions and their families in South Philadelphia? How will you hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its role in the spread of the opioid crisis?
I strongly support treating drug addiction as a public health issue. Treating drug use solely from a law enforcement perspective has long destabilized communities without actually making them safer or healthier. I will fight to change this by investing in long-term treatment and prevention, and fighting for restorative justice with the recognition that all lives are valuable and that these approaches make us all safer. Shortly after I announced, a district resident named Andrew reached out to me. His partner, Jessica, died from a heroin overdose just a few months earlier. This was her third overdose in 6 months. He said that she died in spite of having a loving family, a home, a job and a future. I understand the devastating human impact the opioid crisis is having on those suffering addiction, on their families, and first responders, and the flaws in our healthcare system that fail those seeking help.
I know this is a reality for many people in Philadelphia; last year, our city had three times as many drug overdose deaths as homicide deaths. And the epidemic is real across our state, including in the Central Pennsylvania town where I grew up. The solution to drug addiction is treatment, not incarceration. We must increase Philadelphia’s drug court capacity and increase diversion opportunities so that people get the treatment they need. It’s time we have lawmakers who recognize this and will fight for people’s lives. I also strongly support holding drug-makers accountable for suppressing evidence about opioid addictiveness, and have been pleased to follow Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s lawsuit. I will confer with his office to see what further legislative action can be taken.
10. South Philadelphia’s immigrant and minority communities are threatened by increased ICE deportation efforts, police brutality and misconduct, and discriminatory treatment by our criminal justice system. At the same time, crime has been a significant problem in some parts of the district. What will you do to ensure that South Philadelphia is safe and welcoming for all, from all types of violence?
Philadelphia is considered a “sanctuary city,” yet the daily reality of many black and brown people is one that includes constant fear and threat. Many immigrants to our city do not feel safe here: raids continue that threaten to tear them away from families and communities, and they live in many cases as second-class citizens: without access to basic healthcare, affordable housing, the ability to drive legally, and quality jobs. Meanwhile, the Berks County detention center continues to imprison women and children. Philadelphia has a long way to go in living out our label as a “sanctuary city.” We must increase trust between immigrants and police, work to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of all residents and oppose renewal of ICE’s access to a real-time database of police arrests (PARS).
We must change the way we police poor communities and communities of color, including ending the unconstitutional and ineffective practice of stop-and-frisk. Instead, intelligent and proactive policing, targeting the people who commit the majority of violent crimes, can build trust in communities hit hard by crime and truly make residents safer. We must reform divisive law enforcement strategies and work to have transparency and fairness on behalf of victims of crime, their families and our communities.
11. Do you agree or disagree that “tough on crime” policies have overcrowded our prisons, and if so, what steps would you take to reduce our prison population?
I agree strongly. We must take a number of steps to reduce prison populations. I strongly support treating drug addiction as a public health issue and in diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment programs. We are spending too much time prosecuting minor property crimes and minor drug offenses, while many homicide cases never end with a proper conviction. We need to use the resources of law enforcement and prosecutors to target the most serious crimes. We must focus on prosecuting cases only if they have sufficient evidence and review past convictions to work toward freeing those who have been wrongfully convicted. We also must put in place alternatives to cash bail for people who are charged with nonviolent offenses. The myth that prisons make us safer has prevented us from even beginning to deal with many of the largest causes of violence.
12. The statewide average annual cost for childcare services is $10,640, while the median assisted living facility and nursing home cost $43,200 and $116,800 per year, respectively. Would you support or oppose legislation to provide universal child and elder care for Pennsylvanians?
Every one of us needs a strong social foundation from which to build a prosperous life, as individuals and in our communities. In addition to guaranteed healthcare, I strongly support universal care legislation that would provide support for childcare to parents and support for home and nursing care to seniors and the disabled. All of us start our lives and end our lives dependent and vulnerable. As it stands, financial stress about childcare and eldercare costs rob too many parents of moments they have to cherish with their children, and too many adult children of the final moments they could cherish with their dying parents. People’s health needs should not be a commodity for corporations to use to drive up their profits.
Homecare is not simply an issue of care, it’s also an issue of labor: homecare workers are some of the lowest paid workers, they rarely have union representation, are most often women, and are likely to be women of color or foreign born. They deserve fair pay, safe working conditions, and union representation. These demands must be included in elder and childcare legislation.
13. Would you support legislation for universal single-payer healthcare with no co-pays that covers all individuals regardless of documentation status?
Yes, I look forward to fighting for this at the state level. I will fight for Medicare for All, with no copays, and available to everybody. I believe healthcare is a human right.
14. Do you support the Keystone Opportunity Zone program? Would you introduce legislation to eliminate it, or to limit the number of times a parcel’s KOZ designation can be renewed or extended? More generally, do you support tax breaks to lure or retain businesses?
It is clear based on independent analysis that the program does not make dollar-for-dollar financial sense. A 2014 audit by the Philadelphia Controller determined that the Keystone Opportunity Zone tax exemptions cost the city $27 million per year between 1999 and 2012 and it would take more than 50 years for each job created to pay for itself. It is not clear that the Keystone Opportunity Zone program is even helping us attract businesses that would not come otherwise. My decisions about legislation are guided by the principle of strengthening the working people and communities of Pennsylvania. We need businesses with good working conditions that pay a livable wage and give workers a voice in their governance. By default, I do not simply support tax breaks to lure or retain businesses.
15. What is your opinion on privatized infrastructure or public-private partnerships for development or maintenance of public infrastructure like roads or water works?
As a general rule, I support public infrastructure that the public has a say in and that doesn’t extract public money to line the pockets of corporations. I will need to examine every policy individually, but I would always start by searching for public solutions to issues confronting the Commonwealth.
16. What, in your view, are the causes, threats, and opportunities of climate change? How would you address climate change as a Pennsylvania state representative?
I believe we all have a right to clean air, clean water, renewable energy and an equitable share of resources. Climate change is caused by human activity, including burning fossil fuels like coal and oil. Climate change threatens our lives and livelihoods through floods, droughts, urban heat waves, crop failures, hurricanes and other extreme weather events. We must accept that the impact of climate change is already upon us and that we need to adapt how and where we make our homes, businesses, roads and cities. We must break our dependence on fossil fuels, by banning offshore drilling, fracking, and new fossil fuel infrastructure including pipelines and natural gas power plants, and divesting from energy companies that make a significant portion of their revenues from fossil fuels. I believe we must plan to acquire 100% of Pennsylvania’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030, pass legislation to permit shared renewables like community-owned solar projects, put in place limits on leakage for existing natural gas distribution systems and dramatically improve public transit to make it the best option for travel in cities. In Pennsylvania, we also must fully fund the DEP and state parks.
I support the concept of a “Just Transition.” Taken together, the transformations of our energy, agricultural, transportation, and industrial systems provide a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape our economy towards justice and democracy. This transition must be funded by the super-rich, who have extracted so much wealth from the fossil fuel economy. The benefits, starting with the hundreds of thousands of jobs created in Pennsylvania alone, must go first to poor, black and brown communities, as well as to former workers in the fossil fuel industry.
17. The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce advocates converting Philadelphia into an “energy hub” for oil and natural gas, or the “Houston of the East Coast.” Do you agree or disagree with this vision? If you or your employer are a member of the Chamber, have you used your influence to advocate in any way on this proposal?
I disagree. I think Hurricane Harvey showed dramatically both the acute danger of this type of development and the long term environmental injustice suffered by the poor communities that are sited next to these refineries, where asthma and cancer are extremely elevated. I don’t think people in my district or in Philadelphia should be submitted to these exposures. We have a right to clean air. I also think it would be foolish economically to base our future on an industry whose peak is well behind us. Renewable energy is already cost competitive or will be within a few years. By the time we chase after these jobs, they won’t even exist anymore. I envision Philadelphia as a hub of clean energy jobs.
18. Do you regard basic needs of Pennsylvanians, including food, housing, healthcare, and education, as human rights or as commodities most efficiently distributed by economic markets?
I believe they are human rights.
19. How do you define democracy, and does Pennsylvania meet your definition? Why or why not? What actions if any would you take to alter who makes the most important decisions in our state and society, and whose needs are prioritized?
Let’s be honest: we do not live in a democracy. The economic preferences of the 1% and corporate elites determine how politicians govern, while the desires of the vast majority of Americans and Pennsylvanians on taxes, climate, infrastructure, healthcare, and spending are completely ignored. The situation is infuriating in its unfairness, and it also creates the pent-up anger at political corruption that enables the reactionary populism of Donald Trump. I proudly support any policy that gets money out of politics, increases public participation and the accountability of public servants, and gets us closer to the definition of democracy: one person, one vote. I support constitutional amendments to overturn Citizen’s United and end corporate personhood.
Knowing firsthand how hard it is for non-establishment politicians to run for office, I would like to see a public small-donor matching system for Pennsylvania. I also support citizen commissions for non-partisan redistricting to limit gerrymandering (a practice insiders in both parties have used when citizens weren’t looking). I also strongly support automatic voter registration, same day voter registration, early voting, making election day a public holiday or moving it to Saturday, and voting by mail.