A season of shallow rhetoric

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A strange creature exists on the UT campus, emerging once every year in traffic-clogging numbers only to vanish two weeks later. Unlike certain campus squirrels, seeing one is unlikely to help you on your next exam; rather, your encounter with a Student Government candidate may make you late for it.

Filing for SG elections began last week, which means that campaign season is mere days away. The West Mall will soon undergo its yearly transformation into something more like an auction house, littered with glossy pieces of tiny paper and in which unaccompanied walkers seem to receive an unusually high number of text messages requiring their immediate attention.

Two weeks later, the fair will disappear, leaving behind an eerily silent ghost town of whirling pamphlets long discarded. It seems that every year, SG candidates promise to stick around after they get your vote, but they never seem to do it.

Such is SG’s perennial problem. The image of resume-padders and opportunists is a tired one, but its persistence belies its veracity. Try as it might, SG rarely seems to match its electoral fanfare with its legislative accomplishments.

Of course, that is not to say SG does nothing. The truth is quite the opposite. SG has fought for student representation in city politics — keeping, among other things, parking meters out of West Campus — lobbied legislators to think of students when passing laws and disbursing state funds, organized events on campus to raise awareness of unfamiliar issues and distributed money to worthy organizations and deserving Longhorns.

SG’s problem is not its lack of activity; it is that its electoral mishaps so consistently and disastrously mar its reputation and manage to upstage anything else it may manage to accomplish in a given year. If news about SG’s accomplishments resembles an intermittent series of light showers, news about its scandalous elections resembles a Category 5 hurricane. It’s no wonder that, when the topic of SG comes up, thoughts fly to the memorable parts; they are so disproportionately salient as to cast a long, impenetrable shadow across everything else.

Three years ago, the then-SG president and the chairman of the Election Supervisory Board, the supposedly impartial arbiter of disputes between campaigns, actively solicited support for their chosen candidates in confidential emails leaked to The Daily Texan. The next year, candidates violated the election code by spamming Blackboard listservs on election day and stuffing reams of campaign literature under the doors of dorm rooms. Last year, amid an escalating series of allegations that candidates had spent too much money and campaigned unfairly, the elections ground to a halt as candidates argued late into the night to a panel of law students.

None of the above violations meant anything more than a slap on the wrist and a minor fine. Though spending limits have now been imposed — $900 for presidential candidates — the competitors clearly value the position enough, perhaps, to take these fines in stride as just another cost. But fines should not be a line item when planning a campaign budget.

The newly revised election code — which as of press time is still unavailable on the SG website — stipulates that campaigns that exceed their spending limit by 20 percent or more must be disqualified. Another revision counts fines toward that spending limit. These are welcome changes, and the Election Supervisory Board and the newly created SG judicial court should not shrink from their duty to enforce them. Rules governing these elections need to have teeth. Lacking proper enforcement, they only serve to take up paper — and the election process already kills enough trees.

Of course, it would be simpler if candidates would not break the rules in the first place. SG should care about the integrity of its elections, if not out of a sense of fairness then, at least, out of a realization that all those rules violations paint a picture of a dysfunctional organization that values student resumes more than results for students.