Welcome to Pennsylvania politics, college students!


If you’re new to the state, you may have a pretty rosy picture of Pennsylvania’s history.  (You may also not know that PA is actually a “commonwealth.” More on that later.)

The typical American history text book portrays Pennsylvania as the cradle of democracy or the birthplace of liberty.  Somewhere at about Chapter 3 (after the parts about the early explorers and settlers but before the War of 1812) Pennsylvania takes center stage as the site of many of the most exciting and formative events in this nation’s history.

George Washington and Ben Franklin had regular seats on Sunday at Christ Church in Philadelphia.  Thomas Jefferson had a nice one bedroom walk-up where he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  The Continental Army enjoyed one of the most overrated winter vacations ever at Valley Forge.

Once you move on to chapter 4, however, the Keystone state, sorry, commonwealth, seems to disappear.  Aside from being the home state of arguably the worst president ever (James Buchanan), PA gets only cameo appearances for things like the first oil well and the Battle of Gettysburg (which is so close to the border, it could have been in Maryland).What you don’t learn about is the darker side of the commonwealth’s history.  Apparently, once the Founding Fathers left and with them all of the big time history writers and the lights and cameras of the Independence Hall-SPAN went dark, PA was left with  series of politicians, each more corrupt than the last.  They even decided to put the state capital way out there in Harrisburg where many of their shenanigans could go unnoticed.  After about 1799, the “common wealth” of Pennsylvania went increasingly into the common pockets of its politicians.

Daily News columnist John Baer has been working in or covering these state politics for just about that long.  He had a piece in yesterday’s Daily News which can serve as a great primer for any of you young, idealistic, inspired, new-to-the-commonwealth, college kids who are just itching to vote for your candidate of choice on April 22nd.  Baer’s point is that the tenor of the Democratic race seems to be devolving into just the kind of politics that Pennsylvania is used to.

My suggestion to you, young people new to the area or old timers who have seen it all, is to defy those expectations, turn out, and vote.  Don’t just vote for the top of the ticket and ignore the rest.  Figure out who the best State House or State Senate candidate is in your area (ok, step one is figure out who the candidates are) and make an informed choice.

To that end, here are a bunch of links to get those of you who live in Pennsylvania’s First State Senatorial District some information about your current State Senator, Vincent Fumo, who announced that he would not be seeking re-election:

Daily News: Fumo exits Democratic primary

Daily News: ‘Doc’ told to drop cop from ad (a piece about one of the candidate for that First Senatorial District, John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty.  If it seems like a lot of Philly politicians seem to have names that come from a Sopranos script, you’re not imagining it.) 

And a reminder… college students can register to vote in Pennsylvania using their college address.  If you look on the right side of this page at the Election Calendar, you can find links to voter registration forms and information about where to send them.  They need to be received by your county’s board of elections by March 24th so if you don’t mail it soon, be prepared to hand deliver it to make sure it gets there on time. The Obama campaign has been trying especially hard to register new voters and according to news from places like Monroe County in northeastern Pennsylvania, it may be working.


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