New Pa. representative shares her vision for change

By Valerie Battaglia

O'mara
Newly elected Pennsylvania Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) stands in front of The Communitarian newsroom on Marple campus. Photo by Valerie Battaglia

The 2018 midterm elections brought fresh faces into Congress, including Pennsylvania Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165).

Disgusted by the presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle during the 2016 election, O’Mara said she was inspired to run for state representative.

“I wasn’t running to win,” O’Mara explained. “I was running to show anyone who felt politics didn’t belong to them that it can.”

O’Mara visited DCCC’s Marple campus on Nov. 21 to discuss the issues she campaigned on. She said pursuing a change surrounding these issues is a matter of funding and requesting the right congressional committees.

Throughout her campaign, O’Mara heavily focused on education funding. She is in the process of requesting the House Education Committee to work on legislation that would proportionally distribute school funding from the state.

“The issue I heard the most about from people within our district was education funding,” O’Mara said. “I want to work really hard on implementing the Fair Funding Formula in Pennsylvania.”

The Fair Funding Formula was created in 2015 to replace the outdated formula currently in use. If fully implemented, public school districts would receive funding per pupil.

At the time of the agreement, it was decided that seven percent of funding would be distributed through the Fair Funding Formula. It is O’Mara’s goal to move 100 percent of funding through the Fair Funding Formula.

O’Mara would also like to improve public schools in zip codes where quality public education is lacking, so parents don’t have to rely on charter schools. She said this would also eliminate the issue of families having to uproot due to inadequate schools within their districts.

In addition to other changes dire to the state’s healthcare legislation, O’Mara emphasized the importance of protecting the expansion of Medicaid within Pennsylvania, as well as lowering prescription costs.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I hear from constituents that they’re choosing between getting their prescriptions filled and paying their bills,” said O’Mara, adding she also wants to make mental health treatment more accessible and less stigmatized. Drawing on her personal experiences, O’Mara explained that she lost her father to a gun-suicide.

“[My father] was a firefighter,” O’Mara said. “We now know that many firefighters, police officers, and first responders are dealing with PTSD.”

Having conversations about mental health is the first step to ending the stigma, O’Mara believes.

“We need to help people realize it’s a very normal thing to seek treatment for mental health,” O’Mara said. “It should be as second nature as calling the doctor when you have a cold or the flu.”

O’Mara discussed the importance of destigmatizing mental health issues in the classroom too. She said including this topic in the regular K-12 education curriculum teaches children how to communicate their emotions, as well as what warning signs to look for in loved ones.

The inadequacies of how Pennsylvania handles and discusses mental health are just as relevant to O’Mara as bipartisan issues, such as gerrymandering.

In politics, gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district boundaries to favor a certain party, which disproportionately elects members of the party responsible for gerrymandering.

Pennsylvania redrew its congressional maps this year, which affected the congressional election for voters within the district O’Mara represents.

“Remember, both sides gerrymander,” O’Mara warned. “I think the way we fix [gerrymandering] is creating a nonpartisan commission to draw the maps. That is what Fair Districts PA has been working on for the past two years, probably longer.”

While on the topic of nonpartisanship, O’Mara shared her opinion on gun control as a Democrat.

“I always preface this conversation by stating that my husband and I are both gun owners,” O’Mara said. “We see both sides of the conversation.”

O’Mara wants to start with regulations most Americans agree on. According to her, 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks before purchasing a firearm.

To O’Mara, an important part of gun regulation is ensuring that only individuals qualified to own a firearm are able to purchase one. Reasonable background checks would prohibit those with a history of domestic abuse and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis from gaining access to guns.

“Other states have red flag laws,” O’Mara explained. “If a family member you know is in crisis, or expresses that they might hurt themselves, you can temporarily take [their gun] away from them. That’s been proven to prevent gun suicides.”

Drawing on personal experience from both her father and other family members, O’Mara discussed the importance of DCCC’s education for her brother, who graduated from the Marple campus with his associate degree in business administration.

“[My brother] thinks if he went right to Temple [University] he doesn’t know if he would’ve been able to handle it,” O’Mara said. “Going here first gave him the skills he

O’Mara is confident the students currently enrolled at DCCC have the opportunity to achieve the same level of academic success as her brother, Joe.

“You are in a great place,” O’Mara said. “Keep going. Set a goal for yourself. Set smaller goals to help you achieve that larger goal. If I can flip the 165th, you can do anything.”

Contact Valerie Battaglia at communitarian@dccc.edu