SG: Leadership, not politics, is what we need

By Barney Keller

We’re in the middle of the annual Student Government (SG) elections. Of course, if history is any guide, you probably don’t notice or care. Out of the 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled here a year ago, only about 1,300 actually managed to vote, a turnout of less than 10 percent.

But this time around, I’m sure you’ll agree there’s no reason for such profound apathy. Spring is here, and the sap is running in the current SG leadership.

Let’s review the events of this banner year. The Executive Slate spent their budget at a much faster rate than last year, jumping at the opportunity to drop $7,000 on the LCD screen inside the Reynolds Club that lets you know when the bus has arrived. The Graduate Council and others objected; one electronically-skilled acquaintance tells me he could have installed a red indicator light that would have conveyed the same information for way less than seven grand. But, luckily, they were ignored by our student leadership.

The slate was very proud of its new website, admittedly, a breathtaking leap to the front lines of technological innovation. But let’s face it, brilliant ideas sometimes take a while to catch on. The slate has been running an online poll on whether or not to increase the student activities fee, and by how much. At last count, only 132 people had voted all year, about one percent of the student body. The good news is that the SG website is a good place to go when you want to read financial statements. The bad news is that those financial statements often cause indigestion.

But beyond their wise spending decisions and cutting-edge communication skills, the slate apparently offers another attractive quality—a willingness to play world-class political hardball to consolidate their power.

Perhaps you read about the accusations of political intimidation in the Maroon last Friday (“Board Examines Alleged Election Violations,” 4/21/06). Here is the key paragraph from the complaint filed with the Elections and Rules Committee by Ian Mulhauser, Presidential Candidate for the executive slate A New Day:

“When Phil [Caruso, candidate for President on the Full Slate Ahead ticket] found out that I would be running…he was visibly upset. He approached me at Jimmy’s in a confrontational manner and began questioning me. Phil claimed politics was his life and that I had no business running for SG President. He spoke in an intimidating manner and stated that if I ran then it was going to ‘be bloody.’ He said this in a threatening manner, and implied that he would cause trouble for me. He claimed that he had already accumulated the support of several groups and stated, ‘I am going to win.’ He tried to discourage me from being a part of the election.”

David Courchaine, Mulhauser’s running mate, told me: “We’re all very busy with our SG committees, and while we’re doing that, Phil is using his position to try to win the election.”

Isn’t that the kind of single-minded focus and drive to succeed that America needs more of? As to the details, who can ever really remember what happened the night before at Jimmy’s? With that sort of haze shrouding the truth, thank goodness Mulhauser’s complaint was quickly dismissed by the Elections and Rules committee, which includes member Robert Hubbard, current president of SG, who ran on a slate with Caruso last year.

Should Hubbard have recused himself? This is clearly misplaced cynicism from certain close-minded individuals, probably the types who think the bus pulling up outside the Reynolds Club didn’t deserve the energy of SG. If the Senate held an impeachment trial for President Bush, do you think Dick Cheney would step aside as president of the Senate with a potential tie-breaking vote? Wait, that might be a bad example, since he does. I’m sure that you can think of a better one.

It’s inspiring to see innovative student leadership with a strong ethical commitment stepping forward to ignite participatory democracy on campus while still paying respect to history by following in the footsteps of the old Daley machine. It’s an ode to a time when our democracy was great and unhampered by troublesome checks and balances. If it depresses you or you somehow feel that SG has become a hangout for runaway egos, you should still get out and vote. Just vote Moose Party.