A year from now, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman will be asking Pennsylvanians to vote for him to be their next U.S. senator.
On Monday afternoon, Fetterman urged students at California University of Pennsylvania to vote, period.
“There are going to be election results you like and election results you don’t like,” Fetterman said. “And you need to accept that.”
Pennsylvania’s second-in-command addressed students online from his home in Braddock as part of Cal U.’s American Democracy Project, an initiative spread across multiple campuses that is designed to get students involved in the small-d democratic process. Fetterman’s talk was also made available to students on the campuses of Edinboro and Clarion universities.
Fetterman admitted at the outset that when he was a college student he was not all that engaged politically. He “had a mullet and listened to Motley Crue,” Fetterman said.
He added, “Your level of civic engagement has far exceeded what I would have done at your age. ... I don’t know if 19-year-old John Fetterman would have listened to 51-year-old John Fetterman.”
Fetterman’s own political ascent started when he became Braddock’s mayor in 2005, defeating the incumbent mayor by a single vote. He acknowledged that if it hadn’t been for that one vote, the trajectory of his life and career might have been entirely different.
“I wouldn’t be your lieutenant governor, and I don’t know what direction my life would have taken,” he explained. “I just hope that if anything can be taken from my story, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. ... Just stay engaged, stay in the game, and don’t ever become so cynical or hopelessly jaded that you turn your back on the ballot box, whoever you vote for. We need as many thoughtfully engaged citizens in this conversation as we possibly can.”
Though the conversation was nonpartisan, Fetterman will undoubtedly be counting on the support of college students and other young people in 2022, when he will be vying to become the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace Republican Pat Toomey in the U.S. Senate. This is the second time Fetterman has gone after the seat, following an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 2016, when he finished third behind Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak.
One of Fetterman’s signature issues as lieutenant governor is marijuana legalization, and he said his tour of all 67 Pennsylvania counties to get feedback on the issue was “an entirely positive experience.”
“I went to some of the reddest counties in America,” Fetterman said. “Not just in Pennsylvania, but in America. And they voted for Donald Trump by 80% or more. But we all had civil conversations. ... And we had people say, hey, I didn’t see it that way, but that’s a different perspective.”
Fetterman acknowledged that college students will be embarking on their lives as voters and community leaders in a time of upheaval, following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January.
“That’s a unique and special place to be, and a special responsibility,” he said. “You are the governing future of our country and our communities and our school districts. And the more thoughtful people we can get into that process, regardless of what side they are on, the better.”