Forum: Previewing campus-wide elections

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Xavier Rotnofsky and Braydon Jones await election results on March 6, 2015. While Rotnofsky managed to reshape elections that year, student engagement has fallen in the two years since. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

This week, a federal appeals court upheld a stay on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. The Texas Senate passed SB4, its controversial crackdown on city-level protections for undocumented immigrants, while lawmakers geared up for a battle over SB6, which would require transgender individuals to use public facilities that correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.

It may seem anticlimactic, then, to run a Forum on Student Government. But the deadline to file as a candidate for this March’s elections is next Tuesday, Feb. 14, and the mantra that local politics make a bigger impact on day-to-day life than state or national affairs still largely holds, even in these chaotic times. While SG’s power to affect change on campus is limited, it provides a powerful voice on behalf of student concerns, and its leaders have helped mold this University’s policies on issues as important as sexual assault, mental health and campus carry. Also, by overseeing funding for student organizations, it bears a good deal of responsibility for maintaining a vibrant and diverse campus community.

However, as we write every year, widespread apathy toward SG’s affairs erodes its legitimacy, thereby hampering its ability to affect whatever changes it can on behalf of its constituents. The abysmal turnout rate for elections advantages the most well-connected candidates, which constricts the diversity of perspectives represented in the legislature. And the lack of student engagement in campus politics beyond election season disincentives accountability within the institution. If you don’t care about your representative’s performance, why should they fear your vote?

It’s unfortunate that these issues resurface year in and year out, but that’s no reason to stop advocating for a transparent, productive and genuinely representative Student Government. So we’re using this week’s space to encourage you to get involved, however you feel best equipped to do so.

Both of our featured pieces, respectively by The Daily Texan Editorial Board and speaker of the assembly, Santiago Rosales, discuss the importance of student participation in SG. Our Editorial Board calls for accountable representatives elected into office on the basis of qualifications, not just uncontested races. Rosales acknowledges SG’s reputation for messiness, but argues that students must take initiative and run for office for it to function most effectively as an advocatory body. He concludes by listing the 46 positions up for election this spring.

We’ll have more coverage of these races as they progress. Next week’s Forum will feature op-eds by the two candidates running for editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan, and we’ll hear from the Executive Alliance tickets shortly thereafter. If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, on this subject or any other, we encourage you to reach out to us at editor@dailytexanonline.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

Shenhar is a Plan II, economics, and government senior from Westport, Connecticut. Vernon is a rhetoric and writing sophomore from The Woodlands.

Read Rosales' piece on the need for students to runn for office here.

Read The Daily Texan Editorial Board's piece on candidates offering actionable campaign promises here.