Last night, I told my girlfriend that I was at the Hatchet's SA Debate. She honestly had no idea that SA elections were rapidly approaching, and could not name a single accomplishment of the SA in our four years here. We are both seniors, unaffiliated with any campaign. I genuinely do not know who I will vote for, and she likely will not vote at all.
This blog post is a recollection of my thoughts of last night's debate, and the nature of student elections in general.
As a senior, I am admittedly jaded to the election process, having heard the same promises year after year. Better hours in J Street. More funding for student organizations. A better advising process. I do have to give credit where credit is due. As was said last night, and seems to be a running theme of the campaign, Nicole and Brand had a very successful year, with the return of newspapers in the dorms, Safeway on GWorld, and Colonial Invasion. Yet, at the end of the day, even a successful administration shows how the SA can only do so much.
With that in mind, I came to the SA elections hoping to here a dose of reality from the candidates. I am looking for a candidate who, first and foremost, will admit his (there are no women running for President this year) humility and acknowledge the limited nature of the SA.
The thing that strikes me about last night is that all the candidates basically said the same thing, regardless of the question posed. In this way, SA elections are very different from "real" elections for government. In those contests, you have two parties who have legitimate differences on major issues. Should we end the war in Iraq now or 100 years from now? Does the federal government have a role in providing healthcare to its citizens, or should this be left to the marketplace? Is global warming a crisis, and should we take measures to solve it?
In school elections, we do not have these big policy debates. Who doesn't want a better GW? Who doesn’t want more funding for student orgs? Who does not want the Administration to listen more to the concerns of student's? Who would prefer that J Street be closed at night? Without ideological differences to separate the candidates, elections become focused on the candidate's personalities.
For example, one controversial issue this year was the deal that the University negotiated with Sodexho to require freshmen and sophomores to spend a certain amount of money at J Street. Tariq proposed eliminating J Street and changing caters. Vishal also talked about changing caters, but acknowledged the limited reach of the SA. Kevin talked about expanding hours and eliminating the mandatory dining option. OG spoke about a task force that will solve the problem on day one (not literally). All the candidates acknowledge that J Street is a problem, and all have basically the same opinion about what should be done.
There differences in the candidates platforms. Each has a different pet proposal and project that they speak about. But, all have the same basic goals and objective for their presidency: a "better" GW. A more "responsive" administration. Better options at GW Street. Etc. I am certain that whoever is elected will embrace the ideas of his former rivals. Would a President Aswani shy away from Kevin's idea to expand the University's exposure in the upcoming Presidential race? Doubtful.
One side note: It struck me that during the audience Q/A, at least 3 of the questions were asked by current SA Senators. All of their questions were specific to his or her own niche within the SA: the role of freshmen, the role of graduate students, and finances. What does that about the people who actually pay attention to these student elections that most of the questions came from SA insiders and not from students who are trying to figure out who to vote for? The Hatchet, on its live blog noted that most people who actually care about the election were in the room anyway. I second that sentiment.
At the end of the debate, my opinion about the election and the SA is largely unchanged. Its not that the SA is worthless; the SA has the potential to do great things. The problem is that when you have an election where all the candidates' positions are basically the same, the race becomes about personalities. Elections should be about contrasting ideas and visions; not about who has better connections or who is more "likeable". SA elections pit a group of people who all want basically the same thing against each other in a contest of who can turnout the most votes.
I still do not know who I will vote for. I know who I will not vote for, but am torn between two candidates, both of whom I like very much. Unfortunately, the debate did little to help me make up my mind.