This is part of Swissvale Community Action Committee's 2020 Primary Candiate Guide.
PA State House of Representatives, 34th District
Pennsylvania State House District 34 includes several areas of Allegheny County, including Swissvale, portions of the City of Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Rankin, Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, Forest Hills, Homestead, North Braddock, Turtle Creek, and West Homestead. Pennsylvania provides an interactive map of each district.
Please introduce yourself and your campaign.
I ran for office for the 1st time in 2018, because I recognized that the issues of cyclical racism and inequality have been created, sustained, and exacerbated, in large part, through government policy intentionally, and can only be dismantled intentionally. In my community we have been at the epicenter of so many economic and policy failures- inequitable school funding, environmental racism, war on drugs and mass incarceration, poverty based gun violence, transportation issues, healthcare, and infrastructure failures- each interconnected, but never addressed as symptoms of a greater problem. I saw the state house seat as an opportunity to begin to do several things. First, to bring a sorely needed perspective and experience to the “halls of power” and decision making - that of a poor/working class person, a woman, and a black person- each of which inform my politics and policies. Second, as a vehicle to organize our communities and build political power for folks who have been historically disenfranchised, not just legally through voter restrictions, but otherwise effectively through a non representative government, lack of genuine engagement, and lack of infrastructure to send our own representatives to government instead of government sending it’s chosen representatives to us. And finally as a well to reduce harm. The fewer people voting to harm us, the better, until we can truly restore power to the people.
Pennsylvania’s school districts have the most inequitable spending for poor students in the nation. How can your office work toward equitable funding across school districts, reduce segregation in school systems, and ensure that everyone has access to a high-quality education?
I believe in universal, free public education from pre-k - university, as a common sense investment in our students and our future as a nation/commonwealth. I also believe in debt relief for those who have already matriculated, but hold obscene amounts of student loan debt that cannot be dispelled through bankruptcy or even scarcely paid down like other forms of debts. Our cost of education coupled with our debt crisis widens the chasm of inequality, and is felt most acutely by already marginalized folks and communities, who shoulder the burden of this crisis.
Over the past two decades, crime has fallen, but the population of Allegheny County Jail rose by 70%. What can your office do to end mass incarceration, and heal the communities it has harmed the most? Which offenses will you work to decriminalize?
I support the full legalization of cannabis, the decriminalization of other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and/or methamphetamines, and the abolition of ICE and other problematically punitive agencies. I also believe that, as with other professions, policing should be professionalized with consistent accountability built in. In addition to citizen review boards there needs to be created a state-wide entity that deals explicitly with police certifications and de-certification or licensure in cases of misconduct, that takes investigations out of the hands of the very entity being investigated. There should also be a database created that allows other departments and the general public to access misconduct that could prevent someone unqualified to jump from department to department without proper vetting. These measures will work to lessen wrongful arrests and incarcerations to begin with.
The Pittsburgh region has the most air pollution-related deaths of any city outside of California. What measures will you take to ensure that our area’s environmental pollution and air quality improve dramatically?
I support a Green New Deal to transition our energy economy from a fossil fuel dependent one to a 100% sustainable energy program for the future, with an end goal of 2030 for full transition. This means the creation of union, family-wage jobs in steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, coding and server farms, and renewable power plants. This also means wage guarantees, job placement assistance, relocation assistance, health care, a pension, and other benefits based on previous salary to displaced workers. It is this full, unapologetic, and swift transition of our full economy that will allow us to sever the ties our region has to the fossil fuel industry - and without this we will only manage half measures.
Rising temperatures increase the intensity of floods. Precipitation from extremely heavy storms has increased by 70% in the Northeast since 1958. What can your office do to address the climate crisis, and to mitigate its effects in our area?
Beyond the full transition away from fossil fuels by 2030, we will need increased funding to our crumbling infrastructure statewide to improve our capacity to deal with rising water levels, especially in a city built on multiple rivers. We also need the maintaining and expanding of green spaces and natural parks to maintain a healthy local ecosystem, and that means protecting those spaces from new encroaching development projects and especially additional drilling activities
Nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians do not have health insurance. How can your office ensure residents are getting the care that they need?
As we continue to fight for a single payer healthcare system, I will continue to oppose all measure to reduce medicare and medicaid benefits - and instead work to expand coverage statewide under these programs.
Pittsburgh is one of the most gentrified cities in the US. How can your office work to address the rent inflation that is pushing residents farther away from the city and the greater metro area?
More scrutiny should be placed on large developers and the incentives places on large, new developments in poorer neighborhoods. An emphasis on maintaining and building affordable housing, rent controls, and sustainable jobs that focus on hire local labor can help stem the unsustainable living conditions that fuel this divide.
Over 90,000 people in Pennsylvania earn minimum wage or less, and our minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25/ hr since 2009. What can your office do to ensure that all PA residents are paid a fair wage, and are able to afford necessities?
I support raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15/hr
Commute times are the strongest indicator of whether a household can emerge from poverty. How can your office strengthen and support our public transportation?
Public transit should be free to the public, and in Pittsburgh should have routes that cover the entire greater metro area. I will work to expand funding to local port authorities to reduce the prohibitively large fees and increase services, and will also look to provide financial assistance programs and cheaper fare for those who rely on our existing public transit system in the meantime.
Throughout the US, reproductive rights, health, and justice are under attack at the state level. What can your office do to protect and expand upon existing rights to bodily autonomy?
I support guaranteed access to abortion services as part of any present or future healthcare system, and will continue to vote against every measure presented to limit this right.
What can your office do to increase voter representation and engagement?
The new voting standards put in place are a small step in the right direction, but beyond no excuse absentee voting and a complete paper trail on all voting systems, I will be advocating for universal, automatic voter registration for all statewide citizens.
Chris Roland did not submit a questionnaire response.