After two BugPAC-endorsed candidates were elected to State College Borough Council on Nov. 7, the political action committee’s leaders said they don’t plan on ending efforts to “reclaim State College” anytime soon.
Incumbent Evan Myers and newcomer Dan Murphy, both Democrats, secured seats on the council, as well as the endorsement of BugPAC in March.
BugPAC is an organization created to promote student-friendly candidates who better represent all State College residents, according to Kevin Horne, a Penn State alumnus and one of the group’s founders.
“This town’s about the students, the university’s about the students, and the council should be about the students and the value they bring to the town,” Horne said.
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BugPAC is chaired by leaders in the undergraduate student government, and Horne said he hopes they can continue to promote student-friendly candidates in future elections, whether it be under the name BugPAC or simply by the “spirit of the efforts.”
Horne said he hopes the organization can find candidates in 2019, “because that is arguably more important than this last election because there’s an extra councilperson up,” he said.
Aside from helping get two of its candidates elected, Horne said the organization also succeeded in galvanizing voter turnout.
“Getting more than 1,000 students registered for the primary and setting an absentee ballot record are important milestones, and it gives us a good jumping point for the future,” he said.
In the spring, BugPAC attempted to register as many “traditionally apathetic” voters as possible and help them vote via absentee ballot, Horne said. They collected almost 1,400 forms that were turned into the Centre County elections office, with about 1,000 being filled out correctly and validated.
The number of absentee ballots cast in the May primary was 193, compared to 30 in the 2015 election, according to the Centre County elections office.
Now at the helm of the committee are co-chairs Alex Shockley and Jennifer Heckman, who also hold leadership roles in the University Park Undergraduate Association.
“BugPAC was intended to start with elections but never stop there, and I think that mission will continue,” Heckman, a senior majoring in international politics, said.
For the short term, Heckman and Shockley said they plan to have conversations with the Nov. 7 winners about executing a variety of initiatives, such as increasing downtown lighting.
“Just sitting down with them and saying, ‘Alright, here’s the issues BugPAC was focused on. You’ve been elected, can you make this a priority for years coming up?’ ” said Shockley, a senior majoring in hospitality management.
Shockley said this year’s voter turnout demonstrates to long-term residents that students care about local politics. He hopes students will continue to participate in elections.
“Long term, I think it’s really about motivating students to go out there and care,” Shockley said. “Sure, we’re students here and you might live at the university, but the decisions made at borough council affect all of us.”
But just because BugPAC did not endorse some candidates who were elected, such as Mayor-elect Don Hahn, a Democrat, Shockley said the organization still wants to bridge any gap between students and elected officials.
“Just because we didn’t support (Hahn) doesn’t mean we don’t want to work with him,” Shockley said. “We already talked about sitting down in the coming weeks with him and seeing how we can create a sustainable relationship for years to come… because he’ll be here longer than the council.”
Maddie Biertempfel is a Penn State journalism student.