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A Day in the Life of Politics

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On January 20, Pennsylvania held its 2015 inauguration for Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack. Thirty students from Central, chosen through a rigorous process that involved a civic test and and an interview, were chosen to attend this exciting and unforgettable event, including myself. We began our journey at 8:00 AM; climbing onto a bus, and arriving at the State Capitol three hours later. From there, we walked up flights of steps into the colossal structure where everyday, legislators debate and vote on bills that create permanent effects on our lives. After a long wait, we headed down to a large balcony above the sitting senators on the ground floor. Eventually, the senators on the floor greeted us after the President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, Joe Scarnati, announced our presence. A while later, Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack was sworn in by the Senate, and in his speech, promised that, “As we face the challenges of this broad and diverse commonwealth, our words should be measured by their weight not their heat.” Time will tell if his call for bipartisanship holds up in an era of constant gridlock and division. Afterwards, we walked to the area where we viewed the swearing in of Tom Wolf. In his speech, he urged for bipartisanship and promised to work with both parties to fix the state’s $2.3 billion deficit, fund schools fairly, and progress the state’s economy. He has high hopes, stating that “we have a government I trust or at least we are on our way to getting there”. Personally, I supported Tom Corbett’s re-election efforts as I followed his success in reducing PA’s deficit levels and advancing PA’s economic growth. As a result, I was particularly disappointed in Wolf’s lack of detailing the specifics of his planned policies in his speech, which left me worried about how his administration plans to implement and pass these policies.

An hour after the speech, Senator Lawrence Farnese gave us a personalized trip of the Senate area, discussing the legislative process and his interactions with other politicians. Eventually, I asked him a difficult question:  “What vote do you regret making?” which stumped him for several minutes. Other students waited in silence for a response but Farnese responded with discussing his vote on a transportation bill that inadequately funded PA infrastructure. Several minutes later, we took group photos and “selfies”, and gave our thanks to Farnese as we continued onto a tour of the PA House of Representatives.

In comparison to the Senate area, the House was quite enormous with Guilded Age  era paintings surrounding the ceilings and walls, and rows of seats to fit 203 PA representatives. Then, we were introduced into a committee meeting room in which we learned that bills are first debated in committee before they are amended and voted on in the house.

Hours later, we went to the Governor’s Mansion where most PA Governors resided in during their tenure. However, Governor Wolf chose to live in his residential area to uphold his words of using as little taxpayer revenue for his personal expenses. In our queue to the mansion, we were encouraged by anti-fracking protestors to take fracking cupcakes and deliver them to Wolf. Vilajet Kovaci (274) questioned one of these  protestors, “What would happen to the thousands of employed by the fracking industry if fracking were banned?” In response, a young protester vaguely stated that they would transfer into other industries, and the long term environmental benefits of banning fracking would prove advantageous to our state. Nevertheless, we moved on and walked into the mansion, enchanted by the numerous portraits of previous PA governors and political dynasties.

At the summation of our trip, we traveled to the Hershey Lodge to attend Tom Wolf’s inaugural bash. At this tremendous event, senators, high profile politicians and businessmen interacted with each other, detailing their plans for the future and for the state of PA. Zhanar Irgebayeva (274) reminisced that “it was exciting to have met my senator, Christine Tartaglione, and ask her questions related to my district in Philadelphia.” At the same time, we ate wonderful desserts, ranging from brownies to unrecognizable sweets. Inside the ball, invitees indulged in all sorts of Pennsylvanian food from cheesesteaks to pretzels. We also listened and awkwardly danced to music ranging from country music to identifiable pop music. In addition, David Caycedo (274) and I met Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack, asking him “Do you believe public school teachers will have to compromise on the public pension issue?” Stack responded that he believes they have to but he will work towards a solution that benefits the state and public school teachers. Near the end of the event, former Governor Ed Rendell gave his congratulations to Tom Wolf and hopes for a better future under his term. Wolf also gave his thanks to PA and stated that he would soon go to work the next day.

At the conclusion of the day when we arrived home at 1 AM, we left feeling tired but more confident in our political system. We became immersed in its process and understood that although politicians may appear distant in the media, they can interact with us on a one-to-one level. Politics also cannot be simplified into a black and white system of us vs. them, but a system that involves individuals with varying political views and ideologies who seek to shape their communities. Without a doubt, Central should continue to organize student attendance at these types of events so we become not only knowledgeable and educated citizens, but those willing to educate and inform others about our political process. After all, involvement in an issue ends the apathy that often constrains us. Furthermore, as students, we must ensure that we remain aware of, and hopefully involved in, current events and issues to avoid the common “group thinking” that leaves us following the political beliefs of others rather than forming our own ideas. In the context of Central, we are surrounded by a mostly liberal environment that often prevents us from seeking other political views or publicly discussing them. These types of events and opportunities will undoubtedly encourage political open-mindedness among students and create diverse political views.

Talaial Alina 274
Editorial Editor

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