Abel Mulugheta

Public relations senior Antonio Guevara, left, and Spanish and finance senior Madison Gardner, right, are one of five executive alliances running for SG president and vice president.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the five executive alliances currently in the running for student body president and vice president.

A year ago, Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara stood campaigning on opposite sides of the Student Government elections. Gardner wore blue and white to support presidential candidates Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker, while Guevara wore red and black to support Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai.

Today, Gardner and Guevara vow to “Unite Texas” if elected SG president and vice president. Gardner and Guevara are one of five executive alliances, a team of two students running for student body president and vice president. They are running on a platform focused on benefitting student retention while improving safety, affordability, student engagement, services and traditions.

Gardner, a Dallas native and Spanish and finance senior, has been involved in Student Government for three years, during which he served as a representative for the College of Liberal Arts, University-wide representative and as the Butler/Baker external financial director.

This past year, Gardner worked with SG representatives to develop an initiative to create a more accessible room reservation system for student organizations, organized more than 800 students to aid the Bastrop community in SG-sponsored “Horns for Bastrop” and helped increase the number of organizations applying to the SG Excellence Fund, a fund that gives money to organizations to promote equality and justice.

Guevara, a public relations senior from El Paso, currently serves as president of the Kappa Psi Epsilon fraternity and as a member of spirit organization Texas Cowboys. He founded the 1st-Year Achievement Initiative, an achievement scholars program for underrepresented students within the Office of the Dean of Students. Apart from serving as campaign manager for Mulugheta and Desai, Guevara has never been involved in Student Government.

Although they have established goals they wish to accomplish if elected, Gardner said advocating for what he knows students want is more important than accomplishing his personal goals.

“I see the job of Student Government president as a representation of what students want at UT,” Gardner said. “Something I’m most passionate about is advocating for everyone.”

Some of Gardner’s and Guevara’s goals include measures to further donor involvement by reaching out and creating relationships with SG alumni. Gardner began work on the alumni network earlier this year as financial director and hopes to create a monthly newsletter, among other measures. Gardner said he would also try to establish a student relationship with representatives at the Texas Legislature by utilizing the connections he made when he interned at the Capitol last year. He also said he would advocate Division of Housing and Food Services for a gender-neutral housing wing to be established in Jester this summer.

Butler said she took office at the end of the Legislative session last year and that whomever replaces her needs to establish a strong relationship with the Legislature to advocate for students. She said there is a good chance for gender-neutral housing to pan out because there is planned renovation in Jester this year.

Guevara said the experience from last year will help their run this year. He said he has learned how to manage a team and to reach out to all people within the UT community.

“We’re definitely a little wiser and we know what to expect,” Guevara said. “We’ve also learned about some of the intangible things that can’t happen and we know not to make these empty promises that a lot of these campaigns tend to make.”

UT alumnus and former presidential candidate Mulugheta said when he first heard Gardner and Guevara were running together, he was upset and he thought it was an odd pair. However, he said working with the competition can have pros and cons and Gardner and Guevara are doing it right and he supports them.

“I think together they represent what it is to be a Longhorn,” Mulugheta said. “They cover all ends of the spectrum. Now they need to be true to who they are. The [most intimidating] politicians are those who really believe in what they’re fighting for and if they really do, it will be hard to beat them.”

Gardner said Butler/Baker did not reach out to different student organizations during their term. If elected, he said he would like to increase involvement from outside organizations, establish transparency and decrease polarization within SG.

The SG General Assembly questioned Gardner in January for a lack of transparency during his tenure as student representative for Men’s Athletic’s Council. If elected, he said he will make his executive board more transparent.

“I think it’s important for the Executive Board to be as transparent and as accountable as possible,” Gardner said. “We don’t consider ourselves any better than anybody else, and in the future we will be as open as possible.”

Over the weekend, Gardner and Guevara filed complaints of campaign violations against candidates Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston for trademark violations and early campaigning. They also filed complaints against John Lawler and Terrence Mass as well as Thor Lund and William Brown for trademark violations. Desai and Langston filed against Gardner and Guevara questioning their website and lumbar rental.

Stan Gardner, Madison’s father and UT 1979 alumnus, said he was excited when Madison told him he was going to run — though it did involve staying an extra year. Gardner said Student Government elections have become more intense over the years, but he believes his son’s leadership abilities will help him during the elections.

“Madison is the one that has the experience,” Stan Gardner said. “It takes a while for anyone to learn. UT is a big place, it’s complicated. If you want to get anything done you have to get involved in Student Government for a year or two to know the channels you have to go through to make the changes that are important to do.”

Corrected on Feb 15: Due to a reporting error, the article inaccurately claimed Mulugheta and Desai's campaign acquired $234 in fines. They acquired $126 in fines and would not have been disqualified under the new Election Code guidelines.

Students seeking a position in Student Government may face a pricey challenge in the 2012 general elections because of new rules stating violation fines will now be deducted from a candidate’s total campaign spending limit.

Passed on Jan. 17 in an amendment to the University Election Code, the new rules state a candidate may not exceed more than 20 percent of his or her spending limit for a campus-wide election. This includes any material or service candidates purchase for their campaign as well as any fines incurred from campaign protocol violations.

Any candidate who spends more than $1080, or 20 percent of their spending limit, will be disqualified by the Election Supervisory Board, the student-appointed group that oversees all campus-wide elections.

The new provisions also extend the Board’s jurisdiction to include off-campus sites like the University Co-op and the Dobie Center. Candidates are still allowed to set up their own polling locations and encourage people to vote on their sponsored computers or electronic devices, but cannot be within 20 feet of a Supervisory Board-sponsored polling station.

Until now, candidates have not had to worry about campaign fines impeding their candidacy. Last year’s candidates Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker acquired approximately $405 in campaign fines, about 50 percent of their total campaign budget.

UT alumnus Abel Mulugheta and marketing senior Sameer Desai ran against Butler and Baker in 2011 and acquired $234, approximately 21 percent in violation fines.

Under the new Election Code provisions, both campaigns in last year’s election would have been disqualified for their spending violations.

Some violations by both camps included inappropriate use of signs, height violations in the A-frame advertising boards, chalking on campus and early campaigning before the official date set by the Dean of Students.

Dean of students Soncia Reagins-Lilly serves as the official advisor of the Election Supervisory Board and said she supported the new rules.

“The [Student Government] Assembly considered the recommendations presented and approved a provision they feel is in the best interest of the student body,”

Reagins-Lilly said. “The action was in response to feedback offered by previous candidates.”

Butler said if given the chance she would increase the spending limit from $900 to at least $2000. She said $900 between herself and Baker bought them T-shirts, fliers and signs, but not much else.

“People are going to be more careful campaigning this year,” Butler said. “People are also going to be pettier and file small complaints to have people pushed out. If you get $10 or $20 fines, it can [eventually] kick you out. It all depends on the people running.”

Currently, students running for president and vice president have a $900 spending limit in campus-wide elections. Students running for University-wide representatives have a $550 limit. Students running for representatives of their respective college have a $350 limit. All candidates are allowed an extra $150 if they participate in a runoff election, according to the University Election Code.

Liberal arts representative Janette Martinez served on the committee that ratified the election code and said the committee wanted to give the Supervisory Board more power and encourage them to establish presets for fines and violations instead of deciding on fines on a case-by-case basis. Martinez said these new rules in a way reward candidates who play by the rules because it gives them more money to spend. If on the last day of campaigning they do not have any fines they can afford to spend a little more money and not get disqualified, Martinez said.

“I do not think the new rules will make it more difficult to campaign,” Martinez said. “I think it makes the races fair. In the past, if you went over your campaign expenditures you could still win the election. [This] makes it a lot fairer with the candidates, especially those who do not have a lot of experience in SG.”

Students have until 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 to declare their candidacy for SG president and vice president — or executive alliance — campus-wide representatives and college representatives. Elections will take place Feb. 29 to March 1. The recently approved student tuition referendum will also be on the ballot.

Currently, the executive alliance dual-candidates include Spanish and finance senior Madison Gardner and public relations senior Antonio Guevara, government senior Yaman Desai and government junior Whitney Langston. Urban studies senior John Lawler and computer science sophomore Terrence Maas said they are also running for the position.

Butler said she acknowledged under these new rules both she and Mulugheta would have been disqualified. She said if this new election code would have been in place the Supervisory Board may have evaluated the fines differently. She said she would advise this year’s candidates to follow the Election Code because violating the new rules may hurt their campaign if they do not.

“Prioritize your speaker circuit and get your face out there — the more volunteers the better,” Butler said. “Get out there and speak for yourself.”

It might be after spring break before students know who the new Student Government president and vice president will be. An election code violation hearing Thursday resulted in appeals on both sides and no decision in sight. Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai’s campaign accused the Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker campaign of violating a moratorium against campaigning that the Election Supervisory Board issued from 12:45 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday. Butler and Baker received the penalty for failing to remain within three feet of their signs. Mulugheta and Desai argued that Butler’s campaign failed to remove signs in West Campus and campaign materials online. Mulugheta’s and Desai’s campaign was also under a moratorium from 12:45 to 4 p.m. for failing to remain within three feet of their signs and also for collecting votes in Jester Dormitory. The election code prohibits campaigns from collecting votes on campus. Both teams previously received fines for failing to stay close to their signs. Finance junior Aakash Kumar argued on behalf of Mulugheta and Desai, saying each campaign team was issued a moratorium and the Butler-Baker signs that weren’t taken down in West Campus gave them an unfair advantage. “This is a blatant violation of the code, and it happened before,” Kumar said about Butler and Baker’s failure to remove all signage during the moratorium. “You hit them with a fine, and they didn’t stop; you hit them with a moratorium, and they still didn’t stop it.” Kumar argued in favor of a class D violation, which entails disqualification of the Butler-Baker team, based on the code’s section stating that failure to adhere to an ESB ruling is grounds for disqualification. Mulugheta and Desai presented photos and videos of Butler-Baker campaign materials up past 2 p.m. Mulugheta said this put them at an advantage because his campaign had removed all materials and were “invisible” for almost four hours. “Hopefully, ESB will set a precedent today to let them know that breaks in code [are unacceptable], and students will see a culture change in SG and that nobody is above the law and nobody is above the code,” he said. University Democrats representative Jeremy Yager argued for Butler and Baker, saying there was a miscommunication between their team members and there was never a willful intent to gain an advantage. “We made every possible effort to adhere to the moratorium,” Yager said. “We communicated the moratorium to our campaign members, and we honestly thought the signs had been taken down.” Yager said they text messaged the four team members in charge of signage to make sure the West Campus signs were taken down, but three were in class, leaving only government sophomore Josh Gold to remove the signs. Gold testified he took down signs in front of University Towers and the Kappa Delta house on his way to class at 2 p.m. Butler said she hopes the votes will be the deciding factor that ends the runoff elections and not a hearing. “I just want the election results to be resolved,” Butler said. “I understand there was an issue with the signage, but I think that we made every effort to make sure that it was taken care of, so we’re just waiting to hear the results at this point.”

It might be after spring break before students know who the new Student Government president and vice president will be. An election code violation hearing Thursday resulted in appeals on both sides and no decision in sight. Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai’s campaign accused the Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker campaign of violating a moratorium against campaigning that the Election Supervisory Board issued from 12:45 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday. Butler and Baker received the penalty for failing to remain within three feet of their signs. Mulugheta and Desai argued that Butler’s campaign failed to remove signs in West Campus and campaign materials online. Mulugheta’s and Desai’s campaign was also under a moratorium from 12:45 to 4 p.m. for failing to remain within three feet of their signs and also for collecting votes in Jester Dormitory. The election code prohibits campaigns from collecting votes on campus. Both teams previously received fines for failing to stay close to their signs. Finance junior Aakash Kumar argued on behalf of Mulugheta and Desai, saying each campaign team was issued a moratorium and the Butler-Baker signs that weren’t taken down in West Campus gave them an unfair advantage. “This is a blatant violation of the code, and it happened before,” Kumar said about Butler and Baker’s failure to remove all signage during the moratorium. “You hit them with a fine, and they didn’t stop; you hit them with a moratorium, and they still didn’t stop it.” Kumar argued in favor of a class D violation, which entails disqualification of the Butler-Baker team, based on the code’s section stating that failure to adhere to an ESB ruling is grounds for disqualification. Mulugheta and Desai presented photos and videos of Butler-Baker campaign materials up past 2 p.m. Mulugheta said this put them at an advantage because his campaign had removed all materials and were “invisible” for almost four hours. “Hopefully, ESB will set a precedent today to let them know that breaks in code [are unacceptable], and students will see a culture change in SG and that nobody is above the law and nobody is above the code,” he said. University Democrats representative Jeremy Yager argued for Butler and Baker, saying there was a miscommunication between their team members and there was never a willful intent to gain an advantage. “We made every possible effort to adhere to the moratorium,” Yager said. “We communicated the moratorium to our campaign members, and we honestly thought the signs had been taken down.” Yager said they text messaged the four team members in charge of signage to make sure the West Campus signs were taken down, but three were in class, leaving only government sophomore Josh Gold to remove the signs. Gold testified he took down signs in front of University Towers and the Kappa Delta house on his way to class at 2 p.m. Butler said she hopes the votes will be the deciding factor that ends the runoff elections and not a hearing. “I just want the election results to be resolved,” Butler said. “I understand there was an issue with the signage, but I think that we made every effort to make sure that it was taken care of, so we’re just waiting to hear the results at this point.”

Natalie Butler and Ashley Baker are the new SG president and vice president after earning 55 percent of the vote in the runoff.

A total of 7,883 students voted in the runoff, and after a series of hearings, fines and appeals due to election code violations by both Butler's team and that of Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai, the Election Supervisory Board announced the winner based on votes cast.

Baker said she and Butler are thankful for all of their campaign supporters without whom the win would not have been possible.

She said she is most excited about selecting the best possible executive administration and getting to work.

"I can wait to be in office and make sure that all of our platform points are lived out," Baker said. "I want to make sure that we start this the first day on the job."

Both Butler and Baker will finish their terms as University-wide representatives before taking office in April.

Mulugheta and Desai said although they didn't win, they still want to have some type of SG involvement. Mulugheta said he is specifically interested in sitting in the SG judicial branch.

Both said they still want to see their "unity" and "accessibility" platforms lived out and will continue to encourage their communities to get involved.

"I've learned so much over the last month and I don't think it stops here," Desai said. "I will keep promoting SG to my community because at the end of the day, this administration will do a great job and we're happy for them."

2011 Elections Results Student Government: Executive Alliance Natalie Butler/Ashley Baker = 48.6 percent Abel Mulugheta/Sameer Desai = 34.7 percent The executive alliance will be determined by a runoff election on March 10. University Wide Representatives Laurel Pugliegse Luke Stone Bekah Thayer Chase Covington Matt Hicks Kristen Thompson Diptoroop Mukherjee Yaman Desai Business School Sam Leonard Taylor Ragsdale John David Roberts Communications School Ashley Carlisle Ian Lancaster Education Charley Aberg Engineering Allison Ginger Kevin Yuan Michael Gaskin Fine Arts Bernadette De La Cruz LBJ Public Affairs Philip Nevels Liberal Arts Crystal Zhao John Lawler Janette Martinez Avery Walker Natural Sciences Joseph Lee Morgan Stewart Roxanne Weiss Desmond Schipper Nursing Jaclyn Rosenthal Pharmacy Veronica Fassio Social Work Viridiana Medellin Undergraduate Studies Jessie Bearden Texas Student Media Communications Place 1 Julia Newton Texas Student Media Communications Place 2 Tristan Mace TSM at Large Nick Zajicek The Daily Texan Editor Viviana Aldous Students Events Center President Cameron Allison University Unions Board of Directors Cody Johnson Sara Lee University Co-Op Board of Directors Elizabeth Stone Alex Jones Graduate Student Assembly President: Manuel Gonzalez Vice President of External Affairs: Alden Harris Vice President of Internal Affairs: Reid Long

The Elections Supervisory Board ruled Friday that the executive alliance of Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai did not violate election codes for early campaigning.

SG presidential candidate Andrew Nash accused Mulugheta and Desai of early campaigning after Nash and his friend Veronica Becerra spotted a “Vote Abel and Sameer” TV ad at the University Teaching Center two days before official campaigning began. Nash presented the pictures of the flyers before the board during the trial.

The SG Elections Code prohibits any form of campaigning prior to the date designated by the Elections Supervisory Board, and violators could face punishments ranging from a fine to election disqualification.

After speaking with members of the campaign, Nash said the premature flier seemed to be a miscommunication, but he felt enough damage had been done for the campaign to be punished.

The defendants presented copies of e-mail correspondence between the campaign managers and Susie Brown, associate dean for business affairs at McCombs School of Business, requesting that the slides be posted from Feb. 16 to March 4. Brown said the error was a staff miscommunication and she takes full responsibility for the early post.