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Jay Paterno: It is Election Time in Happy Valley

by on April 19, 2012 6:00 AM

Late April means it is Pennsylvania primary time.

It is election season, and even though the November presidential race appears to be set, as it usually is by the time the Pennsylvania primary rolls around every four years in late April, there are still some reasons to get out and vote.

The first reason is to adjust to the new voter identification law. This law passed on mostly partisan lines. Some would argue it is aimed at a problem many admit doesn’t even exist — including some who voted for it.

Some have characterized Pennsylvania’s law as among the strictest in the country. But before you complain about the new law, ask yourself if you voted in 2010. Many of us don’t stay as engaged in “off-year” elections— meaning non-presidential years.

Politics aside, be sure to take your identification with you. Though the law doesn’t take effect until the fall, they will be testing it, allowing you to know if you’ll have what you need in the fall. But other races should garner the time and attention of eligible voters this spring.

A big reason for Democrats to vote is the state Attorney General race. We have seen in this community that the Attorney General has broad reach and an ability to impact lives with the cases they take on. The G.O.P. side in this race is set, but it remains to be seen who will stand on the Democrats side.

But election season here isn’t just limited to the Pennsylvania primary. As I have driven around town, I have been reminded there is another election on the minds of people here and Penn Staters around the country. For the first time that I can remember a multitude of strategically placed yard signs have popped up for another election — the election for the Penn State Board of Trustees.

The signs are an indicator of heightened interest in board elections with the record nomination of more than 80 candidates. Having been at Penn State alumni functions this winter and spring in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, I can attest to the interest that has been expressed.

All that being said, it is evident that we have seen how important it is to get involved in the governance of our country, our state and our university. Every election season I am reminded of the words of German Statesman Otto von Bismarck: “There are never more lies told than after the hunt, before the wedding and before the election." 

As one who hasn’t had any good hunting stories to share yet, and hasn’t run for office, I can only attest to the lies told before a wedding and that rings true. But sooner or later after a wedding or after an election, the people brought together have to live with each other. 

But elections are just one step of the governance process. In fact, elections are the easy part in a democracy. Governing is the real chore. When people are put into positions of authority it is vital that we pay attention as constituents.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” — President Abraham Lincoln.

No matter who wins in this year’s national, state and university elections, the winners will be people in positions of power to impact our lives and the lives of people they are serving. Serving. They can only serve us and the best interests if we demand their service.

If we do not pay attention, we allow their service to become an unchecked exercise of power that tempts even the most principled among us. We risk putting Abraham Lincoln’s words to the test by being apathetic.

My father once told me about being in a position to influence the course of other people’s lives.

“When you are in a position to influence someone’s life course, their destiny, it is a daunting responsibility, one that must never be taken lightly.”

The daunting challenge was bearing a heavy burden, a weight that you must carry with the utmost respect. It required you to know decisions you make can have either positive or negative consequences in someone’s life.

That is the challenge to us all. After the elections next Tuesday, the elections in the fall and after the Penn State Board of Trustees election, the work is just beginning. We must be sure to stay alert and stay engaged. We must be sure that our involvement doesn’t end after we’ve exercised our right to vote. We must ensure the people we elect to govern our communities are held accountable to the daunting responsibility we have entrusted in them.

That is truly the utilization of the voice and the power each of us have in this country. That is what we as Americans already have; a voice and power people around the world continue to fight and die to gain in their nations.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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