A bit of history about myself
Published: October 29, 2020
Author: Luann D'Agostino
My opponent likes to constantly talk about how his Nan raised him and how he is a great family guy, but there is more to consider when choosing your State Representative.
I like to build strength and focus on the present, but I’m going to take a few moments to let you in on my past.
I grew up in a small row house (guess they call them townhouses now) in Philadelphia with my parents, two older brothers, my grandmother, and at times a nephew or cousin. My parents and grandparents are all now past. My father worked very hard to ensure that we had the best possible education—allowing me to attend Archmere Academy was quite a sacrifice. We all worked part-time jobs as soon as we were old enough. For me, I remember helping with a friend’s paper route, helping my Aunt and Uncle that ran the church bingo, and once old enough, taking fast food and retail jobs while in late high school and college. Later in college while pursuing my engineering degree, I was lucky enough to land a part-time job in my field at CDC (Control Data Corporation).
Graduating 1st in my section, second in my class overall, I was hired as an engineer with HP directly out of school in 1987. I was proud to be one of a handful of female engineers in the country. What people didn’t know is that I was harassed by some customers and even some co-workers, I was discriminated against, and I was paid significantly less than my male coworkers, even those hired after me that I was asked to train. This was typical and what you accepted if you wanted to be a woman in a “man’s” job. It got so bad that HP’s HR department stepped in to force my manager to significantly raise my pay to bring me closer to my male counterparts. Although I had nothing to do with involving HR, I was still scolded by my manager for poor judgement because I answered HR’s questions when I was approached. This same manager insisted that I return to a customer to repair a system after they had physically forced me into a corner in their office while threatening me. I was a petite, 24-year-old woman at the time against a very strong male. Fortunately, one of my senior male coworkers stepped in, went against management, and took the call in my place. I was determined and fought my way into a senior engineering position and later a sales and account management position where I helped establish HP’s Support Services Sales Force, now one of their most profitable organizations. I accepted a retirement package from HP at age 36 after 15 years of service.
I went on to open my own small business in 2006, and still faced discrimination as a female owner. When I started having chronic painful sore throats in 2010, I was frequently blown off by doctors saying it was what I ate or even claiming that my weight gain caused my tongue to swell making me breathe wrong at night causing a sore throat. Really? I kept fighting and after lesions spread and biopsies were performed, I was finally diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease—6 doctors later. I went through 7+ years of steroid treatments and 8 rounds of infusions before going into remission. Along the way I was forced to choose between my business and my health and sold a successful business to a long-time friend. My marriage also ended during this time. Even though I was lucky enough to have good health insurance, I spent thousands of dollars out of pocket each year and had to jump through hoops to receive special authorization each time infusions were needed because there was no “accepted or approved” treatment for a rare disease. I currently pay just under $1000/month for health insurance and will always be tagged with a pre-existing condition. This may explain why I am so committed to upholding ACA healthcare protections and why I will fight for better insurance options for small business owners and employees and those that are self-employed.
I am frequently asked if I have children. My answer is usually, “I have golden retrievers.” I find that to be an easier answer than to explain that I had two miscarriages and once I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease, treatments and complications ensured that I would never be able to have children. This does not change the fact that I have fought to improve our public schools and reform the current funding model and have spent many, many hours volunteering with children in our community.
I mentioned that my marriage ended while I was ill. For others that have been through a divorce, you know that it is not easy. I learned that there is nothing you can do when someone hires a private investigator to chase you around, stalk your house, take pictures of you inside your own home, or sneaks up on you in the dark in a store parking lot in a dark hoodie. I learned that even though a judge hands down an order there is no way to enforce it or report a violation without spending money to hire your own lawyer—difficult to do when banks allow one party on joint accounts to empty and shut them down. I learned if you purchase a car together while married and only one name is on the title, even if a judge orders the car be transferred into the other spouse’s name, DMV will again charge you tax on the car. So consider this: it was purchased as joint property and you would be held responsible for the loan and you must be on the insurance, but to transfer into your name per a judge’s order DMV considers it a new purchase and charges tax. Oh, I forgot to mention, this only affects you if you are the female and you change your name back as a result of the divorce. Lastly, I learned that if you can’t afford the shadiest lawyer in town you can be forced to make a decision on a divorce settlement while sitting in a hospital connected to an infusion IV. This basic discrimination and inequity may have been one of the biggest factors in choosing to run for office. I had the support of friends and family to deal with these issues but many do not. I cannot imagine navigating these obstacles as a single parent, a low-income worker, or anyone with lesser support or means. I understand why people give up. Our lawmakers need to understand how the decisions they make effect people’s lives. It doesn’t need to be this difficult.
Life experience has opened my eyes to many different things, these are just a few. I choose to look at these challenges as learning opportunities and a chance to make things better or easier for someone else. That is why I am running to be your State Representative.