January 9, 2023

On the Rise is a year-long series leading up to MAP’s ten year anniversary. The series features profiles of Millennial and Gen Z legislators in the Millennial Action Project’s State Future Caucus Network (SFCN) network. The SFCN is a bipartisan network of young elected officials that engages with over 1,600 legislators across the country to work on future-oriented policy solutions. Future Caucus members are committed to pragmatically working towards a culture of political cooperation.

In a recent interview, Rep. Danie Pae, a member of the SFCN, opened up about his experience, passions, and policy work as an elected Republican in Oklahoma. Read on to learn more about Rep. Pae:

Who is Daniel Pae?

“I serve as a state representative for House District 62. I have had the honor of serving in the position for four years now. I was born and raised in Lawton, Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma. After graduating in 2017, I worked in the Lawton city manager’s office and got some experience in municipal government. Throughout my career, I’ve been really passionate about fixing issues from criminal justice reform to tackling human trafficking and just in general looking at some common sense ideas to move Oklahoma forward.”

Describe the moment you decided to run for office, and were there motivating factors to your decision?

There wasn’t any grand master plan or manifesto about how I wanted to go from point A to point B into elected office… I was initially on the pre-med track heading into college. That’s what I honestly thought I was going to do until after some reflection — realizing it just wasn’t what I was passionate about.I decided to get involved in student government and switch majors. After college, I thought I was going to work in municipal government for most of my twenties, but then the opportunity came for this statehouse seat and you just never know when this type of door is going to open again.”

There’s been an increase of young people running for office. What advice would you give to those who are considering running in the future?

“You always hear that phrase, “you have to wait your turn…” I completely disagree with that notion. I think so long as you have a positive attitude, a good work ethic, and you care about your community — that’s all the life experience you need. Learning about the governing process or specific policy issues comes with the job, and you’ll have many fantastic mentors along the way to guide you. But if you’re someone out there who’s young and wanting to step into the public arena, I say go for it. It’s not easy by any means, and as my story demonstrates, you absolutely have to work for it — but it’s absolutely possible.”

What’s one issue area that you believe you can work with the other party on?

“Criminal Justice Reform — and it’s been my honor to serve as one of the co-chairs for MAP’s Criminal Justice Reform Advisory Council. In Oklahoma, for the longest time, we had the highest incarceration rate in the world. It wasn’t until some recent reforms that were passed, specifically we classified some felonies into misdemeanors and focusing on reintegration efforts for folks leaving the prison system to reduce recidivism — that those efforts led to us decreasing the rate. We’re still in the top five, but we are no longer the highest. Of course there is more work needed to be done; however, all this progress was not possible without collaboration between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. It was really cool to be a part of those efforts and see what we can work together on. I think the area of criminal justice reform has and will continue to be an area where both political parties can find common ground.”

What are the impacts of polarization on your community?

“Oklahoma, in general, is absolutely a red state; however, in my particular district, it’s quite the opposite. It’s very diverse politically, socioeconomically, and geographically. I think that’s a good thing because it challenges the representative — whoever holds this office in our community — to not be an extreme, polarized, or divisive leader. It makes you bring people together and understand various perspectives, knowing at the end of the day, you’re not going to make everyone happy, not that that should be the objective… So long as you have open lines of communication and you’re willing to understand that not every good idea comes from one party or the other, then I think it can be a successful and effective legislator. Certainly with the Future Caucus we’ve got many phenomenal leaders on both sides of the aisle that share my passion for collaborating and trying to understand what ideas and policy areas we can work together on and take out some of the hyper rhetoric we’ve seen in Washington and elsewhere.

I think most people — most voters — are not on either extreme. They want to see government work and that’s what I intend to do.”

What is one policy impact young legislators achieved in your state?

“One of the most significant pieces of legislation I’ve been able to work on is passing a harm reduction program in the state of Oklahoma… We have a tremendous epidemic when it comes to infectious diseases — HIV, hepatitis C, et cetera. And there are many folks out there, even as we speak, who are addicted to drugs and are using needles to inject drugs on the streets. With the Home Reduction Program, we’re trying to create a relationship between existing programs, such as through tribal governments or nonprofits, and the folks who are drug addicted, by offering them clean needles in exchange for information on mental health and substance abuse services. What we’ve seen in other states that have implemented this type of program is a tremendous reduction when it comes to the level of addiction as well as the cost to the state.

The results speak for themselves. Not to mention from a law enforcement perspective — one in three law enforcement officers experience needlestick injury during their career.

As far as working together or across the aisle — when I filed the bill, it turns out that there were a few other Democratic and Republican members who also filed a very similar bill. It made sense for all of us — instead of working in separate directions — to come together and become a team. And so that was myself, Senator Montgomery, Senator Hicks, Representative Bush, and Representative Waldron. It was awesome to build this coalition together. It was a tough bill to initially present, because the perception is that we’re just trying to increase drug users by offering free needles to anyone and everyone, even though the truth is more nuanced.

It took all of us in this team to explain to our colleagues and work with all the different stakeholders on getting this bill across the finish line. It took two years, having first been introduced in 2020, but in 2021, we picked it right back up after the pandemic and sent it to the house. We got through. Since the bill’s been implemented, it’s literally saved thousands of lives from people being connected to these types of services.

The fact that we had colleagues on the other side of the aisle, members of the Future Caucus, to work alongside — it’s a great story we can tell these other states. When I leave office, this is definitely one of the bills that I’m going to be the most proud to have worked on.”

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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