Lauren Lareau ‘98 is a single parent, educator, and small business owner running for State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 142nd District. Lauren earned a Master's Degree in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in 2012. She owns a tutoring business, and has dedicated her career to helping high school students prepare for success in college and beyond. “There’s no greater thrill in my life than helping kids realize their potential,” she explains. Lauren is running against Republican incumbent Frank Farry in her home district of Bucks County.
What inspired you to run for office?
What got me paying attention to local politics was when my son's elementary school was closed. He was part of the last graduating class, from a real A+ blue-ribbon school, and I was dumbfounded that a neighborhood school that people loved so much could be closed. I learned that in 2011, when Governor Corbett came into office, he slashed the corporate tax rate in half. In order to pay for that, he cut a billion dollars from education, and the schools have been deteriorating ever since. In the 2016 election, I was a huge Bernie Sanders supporter. I really liked that he was fighting on behalf of the people instead of corporations, and had been doing it consistently for 40 years which I respect very much. When he didn't win the nomination, he told people, "Get involved. Join the party. Have your voice be heard." So I did. I started going to Democratic meetings, and I joined my environmental advisory council.
So much hatred, discrimination, and misogyny has come to light in the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, and it's been really frustrating to watch. This past New Year’s Eve, some friends cornered me and said, “Lauren, you need to run for office.” At the time there wasn’t anything for me to run for, but then in early January, the chair of my local Democratic Party reached out and asked if I wanted to interview for the job of running against the current state rep. I felt like it was a good omen, so I said, “I'm all in. Let's do it." I had to get 300 signatures to get my name on the ballot, and I ended up getting just over 500 signatures, which was really exciting!
When did you start officially campaigning?
In early February I started asking people to sign my petition. I was the only Democrat to take on my opponent, so I had an uncontested primary. Pennsylvania's a closed primary, and I came within 505 votes of my opponent. People were really impressed because I didn't have a single sign. I was completely unknown. Since the primary, I've been focusing on knocking on doors and raising money. I hit my 3,500th door on Sunday! I think I can get to 4,000 by the election, which people tell me is a good number.
What are your top priorities?
My three priorities are education, health care, and the environment.
Providing everyone with a good education will help bring people out of poverty. Education is the the bootstraps that we use to pull ourselves up in this country and achieve the American dream. In the most recent budget, $100 million dollars was put back into education, but most of it is earmarked for police officers and safety programs in schools, not for direct education. Recently a fair funding formula was created to facilitate schools that live in poor districts and make sure that they get enough of what they need, but the formula only applies to new education programs and mandates. I'd like to reapply the fair funding formula to all funding of public schools.
As for healthcare, I want to make sure that we continue to protect Medicare and expand Medicaid to cover working adults who don't have children, and also improve reimbursement rates for Medicaid so that more doctors will work with the program. Pennsylvania just legalized medicinal marijuana, and I'm hoping that once we start seeing the tax revenues from that, we'll be able to support health care better in the state.
I’ve always been passionate about the environment. It’s shocking to me that Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that doesn't have an extraction tax on the natural gas drilled from the Marcellus Shale in our state. We are the second highest natural gas producer in the country, and 90% of what is extracted gets sold to other states, so we're not even getting cheap gas out of the deal. Companies pay impact fees to our local communities, but the fees are much lower than any other state’s.
We could use money from an extraction tax to invest in renewable energy and infrastructure. We're going to have to rebuild our roads anyway. We should do it in a way that builds the green energy economy, with better and long-lasting jobs. Right now, green jobs don't pay quite as much as fossil fuel jobs, but if we invest in those kinds of jobs, we can make them more competitive.
Issues like the environment, health care, and neighborhood schools closing, these are the issues that affect everyone in my district. The better your education, the better your job, the better the economy, the better our democracy. It really benefits everyone to have a well-educated community. And we all need healthcare and clean air and water.
How did your Berkshire experience shape your current career?
I took Peter Kinne's AP Environmental Science class in 1998, and I've been in love with the environment ever since. I realized that it was something that we needed to fight for, and he definitely inspired that love. I protested the Keystone Pipeline in 2014 with the Cowboy Indian Alliance, and I marched for the People's Climate March. Living near the Mountain at Berkshire and having access to that beautiful nature really made me appreciate how good we have it in this country.
I was part of the theater program at Berkshire, and I think that experience definitely gave me a good stage presence and improved my ability to talk to crowds and to people and feel comfortable with that. And as captain of the debate team, I think the skills I honed as a debater have helped me in terms of making my case to voters. I’m able to address how I differ from my opponent in a way that isn't insulting, because in a debate, you're not supposed to attack your opponent. I think that kind of respect for discourse is sorely needed in our politics today, and it's something that I look forward to bringing back to Harrisburg. We need to have real discussions without insulting each other, where we're working together to make things happen and talking about the issues.
What were the most important life lessons you learned as a student?
One of my hashtags is, “teamwork makes the dream work,” and I think working together is essential because you just can’t do everything on your own. Through my experience in the theater program at Berkshire I learned how much teamwork is required in putting on plays with all the moving parts associated with a performance. I also participated in Fall Watch, where teamwork was important in camping, canoeing, and navigating the mountain.
One of the things that I'm really proud of in this race is that I’ve reorganized the district that I'm representing. There was no Democratic chairperson for four years, and we had a hard time collecting committee people, but I was able to get more people involved in the committee and to find someone to be the chair, and we’ve made the Democratic group in this area a lot stronger. By having people come out and knock on doors with me, write postcards, make phone calls, and send text messages on my behalf, I’ve seen firsthand how the power of people working together can really achieve a lot. Regardless of what happens on November 6th, we've done a lot of good work for the Democratic Party and for the community, and that's really exciting.
Do you have any advice for today's Berkshire students?
Yes, no mountain is too tall to climb! Even if you don't get to the summit, you're still going to get to some really nice views. Hard work pays off even if it's not the way you think it's going to pay off, and things can surprise you. I really, really, really want to win. But I know at the end of the day, just the fact that I've stepped up, the fact that I have excited people, makes all the hard work worthwhile.
You can learn more about Lauren and her campaign at www.votelaurenlareau.org.
Update: Lauren Lareau (D) lost the race for Pennsylvania state representative to Frank Farry (R). Farry received 18,152 votes or 56% of the vote to Lareau's 14,216 votes, or 44%. (Nov. 8, 2018)