If at first you don’t succeed: Dem Shanna Danielson talks about her Pa. Senate run | 2020 Women Speak Up

Shanna Danielson

In honor of Women’s History Month and the centennial of the 19th Amendment this year, the Capital-Star decided to follow up with the many women running for public office across the state. 

Each week, look for a short Q&A with these women and learn a bit more about them and why they are running for office. 

This week, we talk to Shanna Danielson, a Democrat running for state Senate in the York County-based 31st Senate District, The seat is currently held by Republican Sen. Mike Regan, of York County, who was elected in 2016.  

Regan does not face any GOP challengers. But three Democrats: Danielson, Rick Coplen, and John Bosha are seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Regan in November.

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Q: What made you decide to run for office?

DANIELSON: “I started my career as a music teacher right after the financial crisis of 2008. I taught in a tiny rural district and endured the Corbett education cuts, the Sandy Hook shooting, a shrinking student population, and economic difficulties of living in the PA Wilds. We moved to south central [Pennsylvania]

A few years ago, and I found myself able to attend meetings and join advocacy groups for issues I cared about, like MOMS Demand Action. In 2018, I attended my first Indivisible meeting. At that meeting, I learned about committee people for county political parties, so I called the Democratic Party of York County to find out who my committee people were. 

Turns out, there weren’t any. So I became a committeewoman and attended the Democratic Party meeting that same month. I went back to Indivisible in February feeling proud of myself for getting involved, and heard Representative Patty Kim talk about the need for more people to run for state House. I had a meeting with my representative over the summer about SB 383, which would have allowed teachers to carry guns in school, and needless to say, I was not impressed by the conversation. 

So in that Indivisible meeting, surrounded by people I did not know, I decided to run for state House. A group of people who lived in my district surrounded me, and we became a force! We ultimately did not win that campaign, but we did create the Northern York Democratic Club, which is one of the strongest clubs in the region. I decided to apply, and was accepted, into EmergePA, an intense training program for Democratic women who want to run for office. That experience was transformative and it led me to decide to run for state Senate. 

After I started my new job teaching middle school band at East Pennsboro [in Cumberland County], however, I thought running for office might be out of the picture for me this year. But the more time I spent in my classroom dealing with the lack of resources, seeing the trauma our students are living with … I felt like I had to do more. 

Then we learned that my father was diagnosed with cancer and my whole world turned upside down. Hearing my parents talk about the struggles of the diagnosis, dealing with their insurance company, the astronomical costs involved, having to drive two hours to get to a hospital that would take their insurance … I knew I had to do everything I could to fight against a system that works so hard to keep people down.

So, even though I work full time, have a son in kindergarten, and a father going through cancer treatments, I decided I needed to run. We need more working people and more women in the legislature, actually addressing the issues of women, families, and working people.”

Q: If elected, what are your key goals? 

DANIELSON: “We need to fully and fairly fund public education at the state level, pre-k through college, so that Pennsylvania students are prepared to participate in our economy and our democracy. This means fixing our upside-down tax structure and ensuring the legislature invests in our schools at sustainable levels. 

We should not be relying on local property taxes for this. I don’t believe we can eliminate property taxes, but we can certainly ease the burden on working families and seniors. I’ve endorsed the We The People – Pennsylvania, a platform that would address these concerns in a way that is fair to working families.

We also need to find solutions to the healthcare crisis in this state. Too many people are uninsured or underinsured, and we are only as strong as our sickest neighbor. This is painfully clear right now as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Healthcare should not be tied to employment. Women should have control over their own bodies and the ability to make the medical decisions that are best for them and their families. Prescription drug pricing should be transparent and affordable. Patients should not have to choose between filling their prescriptions or their refrigerators. 

We also need bold legislative action on climate change, including ending our dependence on and subsidization of fossil fuels. We should be investing in renewable energy and the good-paying union jobs that come with it.”

Q: Tell us about the 31st Senatorial District. 

DANIELSON: “The 31st district includes rural municipalities in northern York County, as well as the West Shore suburbs of Cumberland [County]. I know this district. I live in (and ran for [state House in 2018]) northern York County and have strong connections to the people here who are frustrated that they are so close to the place where the power is, but feel so far away from it. My family attends church in beautiful Boiling Springs, and I’ve taught in two school districts in Cumberland County- both Cumberland Valley and now East Pennsboro. 

This district is home to a diverse community and so much opportunity, but we are also struggling to keep up in an economy that is focused on Wall Street and not Main Street. Our district is rapidly changing- Cumberland County was the fastest growing county in the state until recently, and along with demographic change has also come political change.

People are hungry for new leaders that have lived the same things they are living. We have so many young families in this district struggling with student debt and unaffordable housing. We have a real opportunity this year to elect representation, up and down the ballot, that shares these experiences and will fight for them on day one.”

Q: What have you learned since starting your campaign? 

DANIELSON: “I’ve run for office before, so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into this time. 

Running for office is really, really hard when you have to work full time. And when you’re a parent to a young child, need to maintain a marriage, not fall behind at work, stay connected to family, and maintain your roles in many organizations. 

It’s even harder as a woman, who statistically see more primary challengers and have a harder time raising money for a campaign. Needless to say, I’m constantly exhausted. But every time I remark to my campaign team or my husband about how easy it would be to just walk away from it all, I see flashes of families worrying about their medical bills. Or students wondering if they’re getting the best education possible when there aren’t enough teachers or counselors. It would be easy not to run, but I can’t turn off that feeling that we deserve more than what we are getting right now. 

Especially now that we are navigating a global pandemic. It is so, so evident that our working families are being left behind in this economy. I can’t stop thinking about our restaurant and hospitality workers. 

The aides and lunch monitors, school bus drivers and secretaries who are out of work right now. We need bold leadership in times like this. When I take a step back and think about how many incredible volunteers we have, how many petition signatures we gathered – 1,812, and how many people have already donated to this campaign, I know that our community sees the urgency here, too.”

Q: What advice would you give other women who might be interested in seeking public office? 

DANIELSON: “It will not be easy, but it is absolutely vital that we see more women running for office and winning. You are qualified. 

Legislators serving in chambers with greater levels of women’s representation (30% and above) introduced and passed more bills in 2018 and 2019 (proposed by female and male elected officials) than those serving in legislatures with fewer women.

There are resources available, and an army of us doing this, or who have done this, who want to see you succeed. Elizabeth Warren said it best, ‘you don’t get what you don’t fight for.’”

Q: 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote. What does it mean to you to be a female candidate for office a century later? 

DANIELSON: “We’ve come so far but we have so much work to do. Pennsylvania’s legislature is less than 25 percent women, but we are more than half of the population in this state. 

There are still moments when I think about all the people who asked me to run and wonder what they saw in me that inspired their persistence. I think a lot of women have a hard time seeing themselves in these positions because we just don’t see ourselves in these positions- we see older, richer men. 

Those are the choices we have been offered in the past. I think about the kind of Senator that I will be, and the policies I will advocate for, and I know full stop that our state will be a better place to live, work and play when there are more people like me in government.” 

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Cassie Miller
A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.