Following UT politics is hard, but it’s often the most difficult things that are worth doing — or in this case, worth watching. Below is part two of the Daily Texan editorial board’s guide to the issues to watch at UT during the spring 2014 semester, a list that we started in Monday’s paper. As before, if you have more of your own to add, tweet them at us with the hashtag #Texanwatchlist.
The shape of the governor’s race
Though the governor’s election won’t take place until November, students should pay attention to both state Sen. Wendy Davis and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaigns, particularly as the two candidates begin to take positions on higher education. Thus far, neither candidate has spoken explicitly about higher education issues, though Davis has proposed guaranteeing the top 20 percent of high school juniors early acceptance into public state universities if they commit to a teaching career. But given the contentiousness of the Top-10-Percent law, not to mention the possibility that high school juniors might not be able to commit with confidence to a career they’ll enter more than five years later, students should demand a more concrete stance from Davis.
Abbott, on the other hand, has yet to comment on higher education. The only official word from his campaign about higher education policy has been the affirmation that under Abbott’s leadership, Texas will “enter a new era of education reform.” Considering the importance and complexity of an issue like higher education, students should demand more than just empty political rhetoric from Abbott and his campaign.
While both Davis and Abbott have yet to lay out a complete plan for higher-education policy, students should pay close attention to see if they agree with what Davis and Abbott have to say — after all, the next one to make it to the Governor’s Mansion will also be the next one to appoint regents. If students have learned anything at all from Gov. Rick Perry’s time in office, it’s that a governor with an active stance on higher education reform can wage quite a battle.
Student Government elections
For most students, Student Government elections are a time to press your earbuds into your ears and march through the West Mall twice as fast. There’s no denying student apathy: In 2011, only 15.7 percent of UT students voted for the executive alliance. The weird, misogynistic blog posts of Thor Lund, the 2012-2013 Student Body president, didn’t help to distinguish the office much. And while the current Student Body President Horacio Villareal and Vice President Ugeo Williams have steered clear of controversy and made good on several of their campaign promises, there’s nothing to indicate their ability to stay out of trouble will draw any more students to the polls. As of Monday, the first day to file for the election, two candidates, Kenton Wilson and Kornel "Kori" Rady, had filed to run for the SG presidency. Both men have experience within SG. Both men are members of the fraternity Tejas, and Rady is a member of the spirit group Spurs, while Wilson is a member of the Texas Cowboys. In short, though qualified, the experiences that advantage both of their candidacies are also what may keep them from drawing more of the student body to the polls: They fit the mold a little too perfectly to bring to the position the diversity it requires.
Given all of that, why should students still pay attention to the elections? Those interested in state politics should consider that, in Texas, as in many Southern states, there’s often a straight line from offices in Student Government to offices in the state legislature, and the stances taken by student government candidates now are indicative of what we may see from politicians in the next decade. For example, 1967 student body president Lloyd Doggett went on to serve as a U.S. Congressmen, a position he has held since 1995. A mainstream executive alliance in support of rights for undocumented students and benefits for UT faculty and staff domestic partners would be nothing to ignore. Though the Student Body president may have, in reality, a tiny jurisdiction in the context of the entire 40 Acres, his ability to influence public perception of students at the University is damn near unlimited. To the winner of the student elections go the CNN appearances, the Op-Ed columns and the opportunities to rub shoulders with administrators and politicians who may hear the SG president’s opinion on student affairs at the expense of hearing anyone else’s. It’s not the platform points that matter as much as the platform we choose to give them.