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TBT: A Gerbil Was Almost Elected Student Government President

This year’s UPUA election now has two presidential write-in candidates in Patrick Cines and Anthony Mitchell (along with balloted candidates Terry Ford and Divy Agnihotri). But what sort of chance does a write in campaign have to win? A journey into the Daily Collegian archives is illustrative.

I’m here to tell you a story — a story about a write-in campaign that almost took the presidency.

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Wimpy the Gerbil, a creation of the Froth and the Monty Python Society, took the USG (UPUA’s predecessor) by storm in 1981. Wimpy, along with business student Fred Schiller, declared their candidates for USG President on March 13, 1981.

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Almost immediately, Wimpy’s candidacy was called into question by the powers that be. The elections commission insisted that Wimpy, who was not a full-time registered student at University Park, was ineligible to serve the student body.

“They can’t officially run,” said USG Elections Commissioner Rob Flanning at the time. “The (USG) constitution stipulates that the president and vice president must be full-time undergraduate students at University Park.”

Wimpy’s campaign refused to relent.

“At the moment, our legal council and the colonel (a cabinet member of Schiller’s campaign) is working on this,” Schiller said in a March 18 Collegian article.

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“We are definitely serious,” Schiller said in a Collegian article a week later. “We saw a growing gap between students and government. Students don’t know what government is up to — the only thing they know about it is the movie ads.”

The Elections Commission was against the campaign from the start, refusing to allow Wimpy and Schiller to appear in the debates or on the ballot. Schiller carried a photo of Wimpy around on a stick during the campaign weeks, usually flanked by men dressed as secret service agents with earpieces. For two weeks, Wimpy captivated the campus and made several public appearances.

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One Collegian columnist opined at the time: “Maybe a gerbil would do an adequate job for USG; after all, Wimpy’s campaign has certainly been the essence of effectiveness.”

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Ultimately, Wimpy challenged the Elections Commission decision to keep him (it?) off the ballot and lost. His running mate Schiller penned a letter to the editor to the Collegian, calling the decision a “great injustice.”

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Wimpy fell just short of eventual winners Bill Cluck and Ken Reeves — although the Collegian archives is riddled with suggestions of the possibility that Wimpy actually won the election. Many write-in voters simply voted for “The Gerbil,” “The Rat,” or other variations that clearly indicated a vote for Wimpy but were ultimately thrown out by the Elections Commission. Cluck/Reeves finished with 2,299 votes, Wimpy with 1,432 votes, and humans Doug Kahn and Cindy Dutt came in third with 1,378 votes. Despite the loss, Wimpy came in first in several voting areas, including West Halls, East Halls District 1, the HUB, and Briarwood Apartments.

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Ultimately, Wimpy’s candidacy awakened the campus, giving students who would not have voted otherwise a voice. Cluck praised his competition, saying that Wimpy “sent a strong signal to student government saying that they better get their act together quick.”

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While Wimpy himself reportedly died soon after the election, his legacy lives on through Collegian archives. The gerbil that nearly took over the student government 35 years ago stands a symbol of hope that maybe, just maybe, despite the contentiousness of the day, we will all wake up tomorrow and take ourselves a little less seriously. Long live, Wimpy.

About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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