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Going One-on-One With Jay Paterno as Former Coach Turns to Politics

by on February 20, 2014 5:05 PM

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jay Paterno has decided his next competition will be in the political arena.

After word leaked out Thursday morning, Paterno confirmed to he is indeed a candidate in the race for Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor's seat.

In a prepared statement Paterno says, "Today I am announcing my intent to circulate petitons with the goal of getting on the Democratic ballot for Lieutenant Governor in the May primary. Pennsylvania needs new leadership; leadership that listens to and considers all sides and builds team work and unity to create opportunity for all.

"We want to bring change to Harrisburg, putting government back on the side of families, with a focus on improving education, creating jobs and promoting equality for all. I am not a politician, but someone from a family dedicated to hard work, public service and charity to all."

Paterno says they were doing some work on his campaign website and when it went live -- people noticed. That's how word got out about his plans to run.

To get on the ballot Paterno needs 1,000 people to sign a petition, including 100 signatures from at least five different counties.

Paterno says his family will help get those signatures, adding, "Hopefully, they all vote for me."

Several candidates are reportedly already running for Lieutenant Governor. Paterno says the Democratic party hasn't endorsed anyone and that's not likely to happen until after the May primary.

There's been a lot of speculation about a possible Paterno run for office.. The candidate says it's something that comes naturally. "Public service is something that's been part of my family for a long time. I've helped other people's campaigns, I've helped other people's elections." He was active in Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 and 2012. In 2010, Paterno also campaigned with Vice President Joe Biden.

"I felt like the best place for me to make a big impact on the state of Pennsylvania, and for the people of Pennsylvania, in a positive way was to run for Lieutenant Governor. ... If I'm fortunate enough to get on the ballot and win the primary and the election next fall, then I felt like this was the role that I'm meant to be in right now."

Going from football to politics sounds like a significant career change, but Paterno feels that he's well-prepared. "I wasn't just involved in athletics," he says. I felt that I was an educator and a coach at Penn State and I lectured in a lot of classes. ... I felt like education is an issue that's very important and I have a great deal of experience, not just in Penn State and higher education, but in the schools I've gone into all over the country, I've seen some of the best and some of the worst of what we do in this country in terms of education."

"What we need in terms of leadership in Harrisburg right now is something that really we could take a page from athletics; because, when we go into a game and you stand in the huddle and you join hands with people who are different backgrounds, different religions, all kinds of different people come together for a common goal. I think we need that in politics right now and I think I'm going to bring that to the table as somebody who's a consensus builder, someone who listens to people from all different places. So I feel that it's a very natural transition for me."

Running a political campaign is not an easy process but Paterno says he'll start by trying to meet three objectives. "The first goal is to get the signatures, the second goal is to run a good campaign and hopefully win the nomination and the third goal is to be a great running mate to whomever emerges from what promises to be a very vibrant gubernatorial primary for the democratic party in Pennsylvania.

"The goal is to make sure that I can play a part in making our educational system -- from pre-K all the way through higher education -- the envy of not just the country but the envy of the world, because that's the global marketplace that we're in.

"That kind of education system is the kind of system that is going to spur a lot of jobs which is what we need in this state as well, there are a lot of families that need that. Those are the two cornerstones I think we need in the state right now."

Paterno has a ready answer when asked why he's running for such a prominent spot in government.  "If you don't challenge yourself to do great things you're never going to do great things," he says. "You can't be afraid to take on a big challenge. If I'm fortunate enough to be successful there's a big payoff, not for me, but because what's driving me is, where can I do the most good for the most people? And I think that is the reason I went after the challenge, to make a big impact in a state that I've lived in for many years and a state that I love."

A number of hot button issues will play a role in state politics in coming months. There's taxes, fracking, transportation spending and more to consider. Paterno says the debate over issues like those will come in due time. "I think right now, without getting into a whole host of issues, I think right now we're going to focus on getting our name on the ballot and then as we go forward we're going to talk a lot more about a lot of different issues."

As a son of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, Jay Paterno certainly has an edge when it comes to name recognition. However, he doesn't think that will make much difference. "It may help us some and it may hurt us some. What I really want is just for people to take a moment and listen to what we're going to talk about in the next couple of months and get a feel for what we stand for and what we want to accomplish and then make a decision. And if they think I'm the best candidate they'll vote for me."

As everyone knows, Joe Paterno was forced out of his job in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Jay Paterno lost his job as an assistant coach when former head coach Bill O'Brien brought in his own people. Paterno says he's not worried about any potential fallout from the Sandusky case. "I think if people want to bring that up we'll certainly address it. But I think it really has nothing to do with this in any way, shape or form."

Asked if he finds the political process daunting, Paterno laughs and says, "I may not be smart enough to be daunted yet. It's obviously exciting but you have to realize that a lot of things have to happen, there are a lot of things you have to do and there are a lot of hurdles to cross. You have to line them up, you have to be organized  ... It's a day-to-day process and you have to understand that. I think that's one of the things that having coached will help; I can coach a 45 second clock ... you have to adjust constantly."

And then there's the Sue Paterno factor. What's his mother think about her son's career change? Paterno laughs again, saying, "You'll have to ask her but she's been very supportive. I've talked to her at length on a couple different occasions ... I've talked to my family, my kids, my wife, a lot of close friends. ... You're not just a candidate yourself, a lot of people go with you. They're all on board and I didn't make a decision until they were on board."

Paterno is a graduate of Penn State. He and his wife Kelley live in State College with their five children.

Click HERE to visit Paterno's website.

In addition to his coaching career and work in the community, Jay Paterno is also a columnist who writes for

Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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