Danielle Friel Otten- Candidate for PA State Representative 155th

Questionnaire Responses by Danielle Friel Otten

  1. What do you value most about the 155th district and why do you want to represent it in the state legislature?

Danielle Friel Otten is a Progressive Democrat running for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives to restore the voice of her community in government, to put the health, welfare and safety of people and the environment before the profit of big business and pressure of special interests.

2. How do you plan to incorporate grassroots movements into your campaign, and long-term community organizing and participation into your governance if elected?

From our core values statement:

Grassroots, servant leadership — serve first, empower communities, inspire innovation and encourage participation.

Our campaign is built on helping people to understand that they are stakeholders. We talk regularly about what the role of everyone is going forward, how they fit in to the big picture and where we go from here. I don’t know how everything works, but my vision when in office is to set up our space as a community space for people to gather together, meet as a community and solve problems. I want to truly represent my neighbors, which starts with creating an inclusive environment to take part in the conversations.

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?

From a services perspective, I want to create a space for community organizers to come together. I would like to have regular stakeholder centered meetings/events where we welcome community members to participate in problem solving.

I especially want to create opportunities for young people to engage in creating their future. I would like to spend time in local schools engaging with students and encouraging them to get involved in their communities early and often.

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?

My number one budgetary priority is Public Education and making sure that every student has an equitable opportunity to advance themselves in Pennsylvania.

I will work to stop low and no return corporate giveaways, build a business environment in PA that focuses on regional economies and stakeholder value before shareholder value, meaningful consumer incentives and sustainable businesses that contribute their fair share to the local economy and a vibrant Pennsylvania that works for everyone.

Moving things forward in a Republican controlled legislature means understanding how to present great ideas along with making the strong case for the upside of the investments with tangible outcomes. It also involves creative coalition building both inside and outside of the legislature.

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?

We have great opportunity in trades in PA and that will only continue to grow as we move toward renewable energy. I will push for increased and advanced investment in STEM education at the K-12 level and work to elevate importance of advancing trade training and education to the same level as academic/college advanced education.

The greatest way to ensure decent, high-paying jobs in PA for the majority of our population in PA is to strengthen unions and protect collective bargaining organizations from the attacks of the right. I am fully convinced that the reason billionaires want to bust unions is because they know that it is the biggest threat to the power they believe they hold over us. Never in our history has the idea of coming together for a common goal been more important. Our power is in our communities, in our collective. Coalition building and organizing is the ONLY way people win and unions are the root, the history book, the foundation of people building power.

6. Pennsylvania has the highest average student loan debt of any state, at $35,185. Would you support legislation to make the PASSHE system and Commonwealth colleges tuition and fee free and provide cost of living stipends to low-income students?

I am fully supportive of finding ways to make advance education whether it is college or trade school tuition free, accessible and affordable to all Pennsylvanians. Our young people are coming out of college with outrageous amounts of debt without a job market to support their investment. This is one of the most important issues we need to tackle in Pennsylvania.

I am supportive of providing cost of living stipends to low incomed students, perhaps tied to community work or a way of giving back to the commonwealth that also has a path to job opportunities.

7. What policies would you promote to reduce or eliminate Pennsylvania residents’ student loan debt burden?

Student loan debt is at a crisis level in Pennsylvania. I am astonished at the number of parents I meet who have young adults still living at home because they cannot afford to be on their own after college, due to student loan debt. I would like to look at programs that would allow student loan forgiveness in exchange for community work with paths to job opportunity. We need to work on creating pathways for students. Additionally, I think we need to look at some consumer protection measures that allow for student loan debts to be adopted into low or no interest programs with flexible repayment programs as well as making affordable student loan programs accessible to more people.

8. 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?

The lack of oversight of Charter Schools in our state are a problem and the amount of funding they are siphoning from our public schools is alarming. We need to create oversight for charter schools and expand the requirements for charter schools to exist.

When I was young, Charter Schools were a new thing that served a need for students who advanced in the arts, technology or some type of special education. Today it seems that Charter Schools have become the wild west of education and they are damaging our public-school system. We need to return charter school programs to their original intent.

Our public-school system is the most important educational institution that we need to be putting our investment into. Public schools are the single most equitable way to ensure that all children in PA have opportunity and the tools to become productive members of our communities.

I am completely against vouchers and ESAs.

9. What policies would you advocate to expand and strengthen the labor movement in Pennsylvania? How would you expand worker representation and power in sectors with low union density?

I will protect the rights of workers to organize as a legislator and actively engage in the conversation about how we can do better to support workers’ rights, improve the workplace and build stable careers for Pennsylvanians. One of the biggest things I am hearing at the doors is about people in their 50’s who are laid off and replaced by younger workers who can be paid less. I truly believe this is becoming a problem that will hit a critical mass in sectors that are not traditionally union. However, the first thing I think every time I hear the story is that, this is where unions come in. We need to redefine unions and the conversation around how workers are protected in PA. I will work in every way that I can to help to keep the people in Pennsylvania who businesses build their wealth on the backs of whole and thriving in PA.

10. 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 Philadelphia? How will you hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its role in the spread of the opioid crisis?

Yes, yes, yes!!!! Addiction and the opioid crisis are a community problem that require community support and solutions. I will fight to expand the conversation about addiction, treatment and eliminating the stigma around addiction so that our friends and neighbors can step out of the dark into the light of their communities where they can find love and support.

I will work to regulate the Pharmaceutical industry and hold doctors and pharmaceutical companies accountable for the consequences of low oversight and malpractice. We need to be responsible and tighten the oversight and standards of care so that people are protected from those who profit from their misfortunes.

11. 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 Philadelphia is safe and welcoming for all, from all types of violence?

District 155 is different from Philadelphia in that we do not experience a high level of crime. At the same time, immigrant workers are great contributors to our workforce and local economy as many of our local farms, landscaping, agricultural and hospitality businesses rely on seasonal workers to operate. In Chester County, we are facing challenges in the business community as restrictions, fear and threats of deportation, profiling and discrimination face our part of the region. All this fear is affecting our school communities and our local businesses and I will work to ensure that we foster a community that is welcoming, supportive and protects ALL members of our community.

12. 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?

Agree. We need to find ways to balance protecting our communities and being responsible with families, people’s lives and livelihood and taxpayer dollars by addressing non-violent offenders outside of the prison system as much as possible. Most importantly, we need to be investing to get people the help and resources they need to be positive contributors to our communities, whether that is healthcare, rehabilitation, job training, training, life skills before sentences that cost taxpayers more than public education in PA.

13. 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?

YES!!! Our family is faced with both, childcare expenses and the exorbitant cost of assisted living. I would absolutely support legislation that helped families to manage the debilitating costs of caring for our youngest and eldest.

14. Would you support legislation for universal single-payer healthcare with no co-pays that covers all individuals regardless of documentation status?

YES, the only people who are benefitting from the way we currently do things are the shareholders for health insurance companies. A universal single-payer healthcare system would allow for doctors to do their jobs, patients to get the care that they need, money saved across the board and the resources to be focused where they belong, in helping people to lead healthy lives.

15. 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?

I believe that there are some benefits to programs like Keystone Opportunity Zones, especially for those who are building new businesses in the commonwealth. I think where we go wrong is when we incentivize established, wealthy, out of state companies like Amazon to set up shop, bringing minimum wage jobs where a portion of their workforce still rely on government assistance and when the gravy train runs out, they move on to the next tax break. I think reforming programs like the KOZ program to require living wages, community investment, and focus on stimulating home grown business in PA that will stay here long term as stakeholders in the commonwealth would be a positive step forward.

16. What is your opinion on privatized infrastructure or public-private partnerships for development or maintenance of public infrastructure like roads or water works?

Privatizing critical infrastructure would be bad for Pennsylvania. We have seen it with our water systems and I am not in favor of expanding this idea any further in PA.

17. What, in your view, are the causes, threats, and opportunities of climate change? How would you address climate change as a Pennsylvania state representative?

Climate change is scientifically proven and an extreme threat to our way of life. We need to aggressively move toward clean, renewable energy and get off the ancient and dangerous fossil fuel drug. As a state representative, I will work to aggressively move us toward renewable energy, regional and local economic growth incentives and building community wealth and self-reliance.

18. 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?

As a community advocate with Uwchlan Safety Coalition and Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, advocating for a halt to this initiative is the way I came to running for office. Making Philadelphia a fossil fuel “energy hub” puts too many lives at risk in Pennsylvania, destroys our environment, natural resources and private property rights and will leave our children with a boom and bust wasteland to clean up after us in 25 years. I am opposed to this idea of expanding our fossil fuel infrastructure and believe that Philadelphia should become the renewable energy leader on the East Coast.

19. 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?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that the very basis of human need is safety and security; this means strengthening healthcare, nutrition, education, fair wages, common sense consumer protections and corporate accountability, preserving the environment, while building equality and opportunity for all people at the very foundation of our work.

20. 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?

Democracy is a government for and by the people, very simply put. In Pennsylvania, we are failing at democracy, as our state legislature is owned by fossil fuels, pharma, big business and special interest groups like the NRA. As a legislator, I will speak honestly on behalf of my neighbors and constituents and I will also work with my colleagues to pass campaign finance reform legislation that restores the voice of voters by putting the task of drawing districts into an independent citizens’ commission as well as creating restrictions on campaign finance that level the playing field for all people to participate in elections, both as a voice in a vote and as candidates for public office.