A story of a staffer's journey to Harrisburg for Advocacy Day

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 at 10:18 PM

I stood on a balcony in the Pennsylvania capitol building around midday on a beautiful Wednesday in Harrisburg. I stood with four familiar faces from Edinboro, including Rep. Ryan Bizzarro and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. I turned around for a moment to take in the view, enjoy the slight breeze and appreciate the history the building has seen. All of a sudden, I turn around, and to my surprise, I see him: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. I shake his hand.

However, to reach the climax of the trip on that balcony, a lot of Pennsylvania back-road adventures and plenty of political intrigue had to take place, all part of EU’s participation in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Advocacy Day in Harrisburg.

So, let’s start at the very beginning.

Tuesday, April 9

It was 5 a.m., and my alarm was blaring. It was time to go. I showered, dressed and drank two cups of coffee, driving myself and about four separate bags to Edinboro (in my defense, suit jackets and pants aren’t easy to transport).

I met up with the group that was to represent Edinboro at the capitol building the next day: Samuel Comfort, executive assistant to the president; Lauren Parent, a graduate assistant at the center for career development; Bryan Geehrer, a junior at Edinboro; and the incomparable Madi Gross, a senior and longtime member of Edinboro’s campus media.

We left for Harrisburg at about 8:30 a.m., beginning the five-hour journey to the state capital. I brought with me a book and music to occupy my time for the trip, but little did I know I wouldn’t have to use it. Packed into a van with Ontario license plates and a speedometer in kilometers per hour, instead of miles, we talked about our majors and our aspirations, as well as what we hoped to accomplish in our forthcoming conversations with representatives and senators. We didn’t stick purely to business, though, as Samuel shared ghost stories from his college days and we told enough jokes to fill an adequate comedy special.

Plus, you couldn’t beat the view of the winding landscapes of Pennsylvania, and the glorious sight of construction and traffic for as far as the eye could see.

Our conversations continued until we reached the Dixon University Center, a PASSHE gathering space right along the river outside the city. It was here where the representatives from each of the 14 state system schools gathered for advice from a panel and, as PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein said in his remarks, to act as agents in the “Mission Impossible” movies: accept our mission.

That mission? As referenced in the title of Advocacy Day, we were there essentially to advocate on behalf of PASSHE to try to get an increase in funding for the system. The specific numbers could be found in the official information packet, which stated, in part, “The State system is seeking a 2019-20 appropriation of $505.8 million, an increase of $37.7 million.” The proposed budget seeks $475.1 million, but we were there to make the case for the state system and the innumerable benefits they offer their students in their undergraduate studies and beyond.

However, that is a task easier said than done. Passing a budget, for nearly any organization, is an arduous task; additionally, each senator and representative has different priorities, so it would indeed be difficult to find common ground among many of those in Harrisburg. The panel, to combat this, stressed one point above most others: tell them your story. Tell the story of the state system for you personally, and if they still disagree, a good practice was to “agree to disagree.”

At a subsequent reception, the Edinboro team gathered with newfound inspiration from the panel, in order to strategize the next day’s proceedings, as well as refine our angles for talking with the legislators. We even met the chancellor of the PASSHE system on the way out.

Then, after a long day of travel, we kicked back and enjoyed some calamari at Carrabba’s, and subsequently retired to our rooms. We had a big day the next day.

Wednesday, April 10

Like a cruel instance of déjà vu, my alarm once more blared at 5 a.m., and immediately I sprung to my feet. I took extra care with dressing today, because today was the day we would take on the capitol building head-on; accordingly, I had to look my best.
Another early morning, our quintet of Edinboro advocates made its way downtown. I, of course, was nervous. Thankfully, our group’s facetious nature in the car did help greatly.

However, once we got into our positions, we prepared ourselves to do what we came here to do. While our first meeting of the day was canceled, we had extra time to get pumped. There were a lot of other groups there in the building that day, all with pitches for legislators of their own. We had to make an impression.

Due to timing, the group had to divide and conquer to get to our first two meetings at 9:30 a.m. While Samuel and Bryan went to meet with Rep. Curt Sonney of the fourth district, Madi, Lauren and I met with Rep. Parke Wentling of the 17th district.

The meeting, in our opinion, went pretty well. Mainly concerned with the other moving pieces of the legislature that might influence the budgeting process, we left Wentling’s office on an open-ended note, but the important thing was this: we made our voices heard, in the very least. It was up to us to follow up and continue this trend.

From there, we didn’t have another meeting until about 1 p.m., so we stopped for lunch. Nothing notable here, except the first taste of the new orange vanilla Coke. It was adequate.

Then, we gathered for our 1 p.m. meeting with Rep. Ryan Bizzarro of the third district and the borough of Edinboro itself. Thankfully, there were no surprises here as Ryan assured us of his support for the state system and Edinboro.

Bizzarro then took our group for a visit to the floor of the house of representatives, and then to the lieutenant governor’s office. This being my second year at Advocacy Day, I had already visited these historic sites, but little did we know that we were about to meet Fetterman as well.

After we introduced ourselves and talked for a moment, he showed us the view from his office, which included a nice angle of the river beyond. And, because photographers follow him everywhere, we got a photo with him.

Then, an assistant came out and said, “John, the governor is here.” We all immediately thought, “Is this actually about to happen?”

As mentioned before, it actually did happen. We all got to shake his hand, as well as get a group picture with him. After we were thanked and dismissed from the office, we later found out that we were the only one of the 14 PASSHE schools that had the opportunity to meet him.

From there, we attended our final meeting with the chief of staff of Michele Brooks of the 50th district. We were able to have a good conversation about ourselves and the situation of the university. Finishing with a photo op, Brooks had her secretary take us to see the senate floor and the governor’s reception room.

That, ultimately, brought an end to Advocacy Day, and our weary group of Fighting Scots became the Exhausted Scots as we made our way back to Edinboro, listening along to a playlist of country hits.

When the trip finally came to an end, I was actually a little sad. This quickly turned to laughter, though, as I realized that I had been given two parking tickets during the time I had been gone. This did give me a good chuckle.

Nonetheless, I learned several things on this trip.

1. You CAN make a difference. Just tell your story, and you can connect with others in a way you never knew you could.

2. If you ever want to get to know someone, go on a long trip with them. A combined 11 hours on the road with a group of people can bond you together like few other activities could. In fact, by the end of the trip, we knew what hospital each of us had been born in. The point is, long trips like this, while they served the purpose of rallying for money, can accomplish a lot more than that through the human connections you make with your peers.

3. Lastly, don’t park in the Reeder Hall parking lot. They will ticket you without a moment’s hesitation.

Nathan Brennan | ae.spectator@gmail.com

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