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Politics & Government

After DeVos Vote, Toomey Protesters Pivot To Labor Secretary Pick

Matt Slocum
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey after winning re-election on November 8, 2016. Betsy DeVos donated to Toomey's campaign.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey joined 49 of his fellow Republicans in confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday afternoon.

In a statement released before his vote, Toomey said he was pleased to vote in favor of the school choice advocate.

“Because of Betsy’s work to expand charter schools, virtual schools, school choice, tuition tax credits and education savings accounts, hundreds of thousands of children who had been trapped in failing schools have been able to access a quality education,” Toomey wrote.

Credit Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA
Protesters leaving a Tuesdays with Toomey rally near his Station Square offices on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.

DeVos is a businesswoman, philanthropist and advocate of voucher programs, as well as charter and private schools. She has never attended or taught in a public school and she never sent her children to public school.

Toomey’s yes vote came despite a deluge of emails, calls and faxes to his office urging him to vote no on DeVos, many of which he said came from outside Pennsylvania.

“My D.C. and PA offices are receiving a high volume of calls and emails from people outside of our state weighing in on President Trump's cabinet nominees,” Toomey wrote on Facebook Monday.

But Jennifer McDowell, an organizer with the Tuesdays with Toomey group, said that’s not true.

“This is not, as Toomey has suggested … out of state agitators coming in to rile up the populace,” she said. “We are all Pennsylvanians who really care about our state.”

Credit Copyright 2017 Rob Rogers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Reprinted with Permission

Toomey’s office declined a request for an interview and did not provide data about the number of people who had contacted the office in support of DeVos versus those in opposition to her nomination.

McDowell said hundreds of people gathered outside Toomey’s Station Square offices to rally during the DeVos vote. Many expressed frustration at Toomey’s yes vote for the nominee.

“She has never done anything for public education,” said retired school teacher Dave Blair, of Monaca. “The only thing she’s ever done is against public education.”

McDowell said they’ll next turn their attention to President Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

“(He is) another one we feel is just one of the most inappropriate people you could pick,” she said.

For that effort, McDowell said the Tuesdays with Toomey group will coordinate with groups already working on labor issues, such as Fight for $15 activists and the Service Employees International Union.

*UPDATED: Feb. 10, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.