This month’s Penn State Board of Trustee (BOT) election demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the alumni reform group, Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, or PS4RS.
The group vetted and selected six nominee candidates by committee, from which members selected three final candidates.
The group then spent $20,000 on advertising the final three candidates on billboards and the web, while members angrily went after incumbents.
This process upended the traditional politics of getting on the Penn State Board of Trustees. But not all are happy with the new politics of the group.
And it’s not at all clear that the group’s future is secure.
There can be no doubt that the alumni group has been effective in placing a few new alumni members on to the large and diversified Penn State Board of Trustees.
In the May 3 BOT election all three candidates endorsed by PS4RS won election to the school’s governing board by impressive margins. Those candidates not endorsed by the group didn’t even come close.
The winning candidates — Barbara Doran, Bill Oldsey, and Ted Brown — pulled 15,085; 13,940; 11,403 votes, respectively.
The closest any candidate got to these totals was incumbent Paul Shuey, who lost his seat on the board by pulling only 4,521 votes. The other incumbent up for reelection, BOT co-chair Stephanie Deviney, pulled only 2026 votes.
That PS4RS candidates handily routed both incumbents from the BOT certainly sends a warning to others seeking election or reelection to the board next year.
Most interesting and emblematic of the new politics of BOT elections was the defeat of longtime Pennsylvania politician Robert Jubilier, who only pulled 3,030 votes.
Jubilier in many ways is an emblem of old politics, both in Pennsylvania, and the BOT.
Jubilier of course is the former state senator, president pro tem of the state senate, and lieutenant governor who was swept out of his senate seat in the surprise primary election of 2006, in the wake of dissatisfaction against incumbents in a legislative pay raise scandal.
In Jubilier’s failed campaign for the BOT we see that old guard mistakenly seems to regard new web politicking as something for kids.
Instead, Jubilier tellingly sent emails to political insiders in Harrisburg, like state Rep. Bryan Barbin, asking for their support. Emails from Jubilier also went to deceased Congressman John Murtha, and even to former lawmakers convicted of crimes, like Bill DeWeese and Jane Orie. That Jubilier thought these old-time pols could help him with his bid for the BOT really shows how out of step he is.
Such a campaign based on the help of political insiders might have helped Bob Jubilier five years ago, but certainly not today.
Also worthy of consideration was the fate of Kathleen Pavelko, who heads the WITF public television and radio stations in central Pennsylvania, and regularly appears on its airwaves. Pavelko pulled only 2,732 votes, despite being a familiar face to many.
But that does not mean there are not problems with the new politics, or dissatisfaction with the way PS4R vetted its candidates prior to awarding its endorsement.
In the heat of the campaign, alums and PS4R members alike expressed disenchantment and upset with the reform group’s private vetting procedure.
Some now want to reform the reform group.
The process worked this year as follows: Some thirty candidates sought PS4RS’s endorsement. Candidates seeking endorsement answered questionnaires and met with selection committee members.
The group’s selection committee then picked six preliminary nominees from this field.
Only then did all the group’s members select the final three candidates by ballot.
This semi-closed process led to cries of foul.
If endorsement by the group has become so all-important, the process should be more public, the argument goes. Why not select PS4RS’s candidates in open primary elections on the group’s websites, they argue, instead of relying on a preliminary closed vetting process?
Candidates not selected by the group’s vetting committee said they should at least have had a chance to openly appeal to all the group’s members on the web, instead of submitting to the closed committee.
Some group members also felt the process limited their ability to pick a candidate. There was angry debate on the group’s web and Facebook pages.
Should this nominating process be corrected to everyone’s satisfaction, there are other problems on the horizon. Even if PS4RS candidates win all the elections in the coming years, there are only nine seats held by alums on the Board of Trustees. The BOT has more than thirty members. Even if they continue to win elections, alums still won’t hold anywhere near a majority on the board.
The biggest looming problem seems to be one of the overall mission and goals of the reform group. What exactly does PS4RS hope to reform?
The group’s influential and widely read Facebook website is titled, “We intend to vote out the Penn State Board of Trustees.”
Following the BOT election, some newspaper wags suggested the group was really only out for revenge, and that the only real goal was to remove BOT trustees who had a hand in firing Coach Joe Paterno.