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Democrat Wolf elected as governor of Pennsylvania

Many students voted in the Cohon University Center’s Alumni Lounge, Carnegie Mellon’s polling place for Tuesday’s midterm elections.  (credit: Abhinav Gautam/) Many students voted in the Cohon University Center’s Alumni Lounge, Carnegie Mellon’s polling place for Tuesday’s midterm elections. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/)

While America went right, Pennsylvania went left.

A frustrated America booted Democrats from both the U.S. Congress and a majority of state governments during midterm elections last week, with Republicans now controlling the House and Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s final term.

Yet this past Tuesday, Pennsylvanians chose Democrat Tom Wolf as the state’s new governor. Wolf ousted Republican Governor Tom Corbett in a historic election, making Corbett the first governor not re-elected in the history of the Keystone State since Pennsylvania allowed governors to run for consecutive terms. The Carnegie Mellon community contributed a respectable amount of votes in the midterm elections, joining Pennsylvania’s higher-than-expected voter turnout.

“We need to reestablish education as the priority,” stated Wolf at his victory rally in York, Pa.

A businessman from central Pennsylvania, Wolf defeated Corbett as approval ratings for the incumbent governor continued to drop.

For Wolf, the state’s public education system demands the most attention. Since the start of Corbett’s term as governor, the highly contested state education budget cuts incited a bold backlash from voters across the state. As stated by the University of Pittsburgh’s website, the state’s handling of the education budget has been a challenge for the school: “Pitt trustees have approved a $1.97 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2014. The University’s state funding remains at the same level as it was in 1995, in absolute dollars unadjusted for inflation. If inflationary adjustments are made, state support now is at its lowest level since Pitt became a public university in the mid-1960s.”

Corbett’s loss is a sharp contrast to the overwhelmingly successful elections of Republicans in state and federal governments in this midterm election. Corbett’s miscommunications with the public concerning the education budget cuts, among other issues, are recognized as the main reasons for his loss. Perhaps Corbett will be best remembered for permitting the legalization of gay marriage in Pennsylvania.

Wolf has never held public office before now. Previously, he directed his family’s building supplies company outside of Harrisburg for three decades. He received a doctorate in political science from MIT, and served with the Peace Corps in India. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wolf spent $10 million dollars of his own money on his campaign, a significantly higher amount than that spent by his far more politically-experienced rivals. Wolf’s most aggressive campaigns against Corbett concerned the controversial education budget cuts.

Although Carnegie Mellon does not have a large number of enrolled students from Pennsylvania, voting turnout at the school proved solid. Four voting booths were set up on Tuesday in the CUC’s alumni lounge under the supervision of the Center and Allegheny County. 241 persons voted in the Pennsylvania elections at Carnegie Mellon. Another seven absentee ballots were counted, meaning seven persons voted in the elections from outside of the state.

According to Marcia Gerwig, the Director of the Cohon University Center, the voting system at Carnegie Mellon underwent changes to become more convenient for the community. Originally polling booths were positioned at the former Skibo building, with the booths relocated to the nearby city golf course during construction of the CUC. In 2008, student body requests for closer voting locations moved the booths back to campus.

The majority of Carnegie Mellon students hail from outside of the state, and 20 percent of students come from places outside of the United States. Still, Wolf’s administration will have an effect on Carnegie Mellon. His goals, he said after he was elected, are “to fund a world-class public education system, create family-sustaining jobs ... build safe communities, and keep Pennsylvania beautiful.”

Sophomore Casey Devine, a global studies major and Pittsburgh native, shared her thoughts on the race: “I followed the election and I did vote.... I think [Wolf] has a lot to offer. He is truly progressive in terms of women’s issues, the environment, and marriage equality and education, but I do think that he will be very challenged by the fact that he is facing a heavily Republican legislature.”

Also an undergraduate from Pittsburgh, sophomore computer science and English major Steve Epple voiced his concerns about the election. “You caught me. I didn’t vote. It is my eternal shame,” joked Epple. “That is not to say that I found Tom Wolf to be a particularly strong candidate. I was disappointed that he did not address the elephant in the room, the UPMC/Highmark split, during his campaign. I am also concerned about how he is going to handle education in Pennsylvania. While I believe investing in education to be of utmost importance, I am concerned by Wolf’s eagerness to reinstate Corbett’s cuts to the education system. I think the education system needs to be drastically reorganized before risking more money in an already struggling system... I appreciated his environmental platform and support his position on taxing natural gas manufacturing.”