Delegates from all over the country have gathered in Charlotte, N.C. this week for the Democratic National Convention, but Centre County native Jayson Harpster has traveled further than most.
The 26-year-old Army sergeant from Pennsylvania Furnace is attending the convention as an alternate delegate while he’s home on a two-week leave from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Harpster spoke only for himself in his capacity as a private citizen, not as a representative of the military.
This may be Harpster’s first convention, but he’s no stranger to political life. He said he studied diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University, where he graduated in 2008. He also worked as a field organizer for the Obama campaign before joining the Army in 2009.
When elected delegate Bill Van Saun found out that he couldn’t go to the convention because of his military training, it seemed only natural for Harpster to step in. Harpster said he was initially conflicted about attending, but it was Van Saun’s idea.
"It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if I had turned it down that wouldn’t mean that Bill could go," Harpster said. "I was very, very thankful and still am. There’s no way I was going to turn down the opportunity."
The Afghans Harpster works with were sad that he was leaving, but really excited for him, he said. They asked for his phone number to call him while he’s back in America, and he’s been taking lots of pictures so they can see what America is like, he said.
Harpster said he deployed for the second time at the end of last November with plans to take his two weeks of leave toward the end of his tour — around the same time as the convention.
"The Democratic Party has been so supportive of my career before and during my time in the service. It’s very touching how supportive they’ve been," Harpster said.
Elected alternate delegate Edward Scurry took the place of Van Saun, and the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee appointed Harpster as the new alternate delegate at its meeting in June, Centre County Democratic Committee Chairman Greg Stewart said.
Stewart said they were hoping to replace Van Saun with a veteran or someone else with military involvement. As a bright, young leader, Harpster was a natural choice for the open alternate delegate position, Stewart said.
Bob Shepherd, Centre County Democratic Committee Secretary, said Harpster has a fundamental concern for the well-being of virtually everyone, especially those who have less to fall back on in terms of family, education and wealth. Shepherd said he hopes Harpster makes a career out of some aspect of political life.
"It would be good for him, and I think it would be good for all of us," Shepherd said. "He always has a big smile, which is important in whatever you do. His, I think, truly comes from the heart."