While I can only speak for myself, I'm always glad when Presidential campaigns are over. I know that sounds funny coming from a guy who serves in the Pennsylvania Senate, but the endless commercials, analysis from pundits and opinions from talking heads is almost more than I can stand. If it weren't for the Phillies, I would have unplugged the tube.
The news that always brightened my day was to see young people turning out in large numbers at campaign rallies for both Democratic and Republican candidates.
Whatever your political leanings, the growing interest of young Americans in our political process is exciting to watch. Observers say the large voter turnout we saw November 4th reflects a surge in the number of younger voters casting ballots. That's good news for our country.
In recent decades, young Americans were largely indifferent, voting well below their 17 percent share of the population. That may have been due to both the candidates and their political parties ignoring the opinions and issues important to young people.
As candidates become more in tune with voters between the ages of 18 and 30, we've seen the number casting ballots rise. In 2000, 18 million people under the age of 30 voted. Four years later, over 20 million did. In Pennsylvania, of the more than 218,000 new registered voters since January 2008, over 70 percent are between the ages of 18 and 35.
Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama worked hard to win the vote of the more than 50 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 30. (There are an estimated 1.9 million young people in Pennsylvania who are eligible to vote.) From registering new voters through Facebook to texting supporters to get out the vote, both presidential candidates spent enormous resources to curry favor with younger voters. While still to be dissected, returns show that young voters supported Barack Obama by a more than 2-1 margin.
Here in Pennsylvania, I believe more needs to be done to reach out to this newly invigorated electorate. As public servants, we must do more to extend a hand to young voters and address the issues that matter to them. For example, it is estimated that 71 percent of students who left Pennsylvania higher educational institutions in 2007 owed money. The average debt load was $23,613, the sixth largest in the nation, yet Pennsylvania is doing little to address this issue.
As importantly, we must do more to keep Pennsylvania's young people in Pennsylvania. Between 1990 and 2000, Pennsylvania lost more young people than any other state in the Union.
Since being elected to the state Senate, I have heard from interest groups from almost every aspect of our society - groups that represent everything from dry cleaners to ice cream vendors to egg producers. And that's a good thing. People voices should be heard. But Pennsylvania's young people have no such voice to represent their interests or concerns. It may be because they are too busy with school or starting new jobs to lobby the halls of Harrisburg, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be listening. After all, in 10 or 15 years, these people will be running things.
One of my objectives for the coming year is to become an advocate for advancing youth issues within the state legislature. The first step in this effort is to meet Nov. 19th at the Harrisburg Area Community College to hear from stakeholders and lawmakers about what we can do to support our state's youth. While our overall goal will be to make Pennsylvania a premiere state in which young people can live and be heard, I am focused on three driving principles: education, entrepreneurship, and empowerment. I am confident that improving these "3 Es", will make Pennsylvania a leader among states where young adults can successfully live, work and start a business.
Pennsylvania has the potential to be one of the best places in America to go to school, start a career, and raise a family. It's important we start listening to our state's youth and work with them on developing a plan for the future growth of our Commonwealth in the 21st century.
Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-Quakertown, represents the 24th district in the Pennsylvania Senate.