Madison Gardner

Court upholds Gardner and Guevara disqualification


The Student Government Judicial Court upheld the disqualification of former SG presidential candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara and denied their appeal of the Election Supervisory Board’s disqualification today.


Gardner and Guevara petitioned the court for a rehearing of the complaints that disqualified them last week, claiming the Board had committed procedural error and subsequently violated their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. The court stated they agreed with the Board’s judgment to disqualify the candidates because they failed to file accurate financial disclosure statements.


At the hearing, Alden Harris, Judicial Court chief justice, said while the court should look to the U.S. Constitution for guidance, the document applies specifically to Congress and state actors.


Gardner stated the decision disqualifying him and Guevara violated procedure for several reasons. Regarding their disregard of an earlier fine issued by the Board, he stated the Board failed to give him and Guevara 24-hour notice of a complaint filed against them and build a council for their defense. He also said the complaint was filed by Board chair Eric Nimmer, who is prohibited from making complaints under the Election Code.


The court affirmed Nimmer did not file a complaint against Gardner and Guevara, although he did address concerns not filed in the original complaint filed by SG law school representative Austin Carlson.


Gardner also stated Sunday this was a violation of his Sixth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution, which grants him the right to be informed of any complaint against him to build a council for his defense.


Aakash Kumar represented Gardner at the hearing and said the court should judge their decision by a document that governs the United States, not by the judgment of the Election Supervisory Board.


"The ESB is not a court of law," the court said in a statement issued today. "And though certain procedural safeguards do exist to protect the candidates from prejudice or insufficient process, the code is designed to permit the ESB enough procedural leeway to hear and decide complaints in a timely and efficient manner."


John Lawler and Thor Lund are the only presidential candidates that remain. Elections will be held March 28 and 29.

Scandals and disqualifications shook student government elections in colleges across the state this year, raising questions about the students overseeing the elections and the rules governing the process.

Although the intricate cases varied at each institution, the problems and complaints in student government elections are a familiar scene.

Four student government presidential candidates were disqualified by their respective election authorities at the University of Texas, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston for misrepresentation, financial discrepancies and voter fraud, among other reasons. In light of the complications, all three institutions have announced plans to review the election rules and regulations to avoid future problems.

John Claybrook, Student Government Association president at Texas A&M, said he wants to work with the election commission, the student organization overseeing the election, to make the rules are as clear as they can be and coordinate them with student government rules and regulations.

Claybook was disqualified for allegedly misrepresenting the cost of his website and not reporting tax and shipping costs in his total campaign expenses, although he was later reinstated.

“I think as a culture we are being taught to value the final product of our work in regards to campaigns,” Claybrook said. “Candidates might be valuing victory more than we value how we get there.”

Claybrook’s contender, Thomas McNutt, also faced problems this year for misrepresenting the cost of his website, but was not disqualified.

UT is the only institution thus far that will now require legal review of election procedures and other SG governing documents to ensure the rules are compliant with state and federal laws. This change came after former candidate Madison Gardner filed a lawsuit against UT claiming election rules violated his First Amendment constitutional right to association. In the lawsuit, Gardner contested the association clause in the election code, which states candidates are prohibited from associating with candidates from another campaign.

UT suspended the rule in question and reinstated Gardner, who dropped the suit in direct response. Gardner’s case marks the second time UT has been taken to court due to claims that the election code violated constitutional rights.

UTSG presidential candidate Yaman Desai was also disqualified after telling a supporter to impersonate an election official to gain information on Gardner’s campaign.

Although Texas A&M did not face any legal challenges, Claybrook said he wants to have A&M’s general counsel look over election rules to be safe.

Soncia Reagins-Lilly, UT dean of students, said on March 30 that it was important to review these documents to clarify the rules and make sure the University does not face another lawsuit in the future.

“It’s important to have these governing documents reviewed by UT legal or a designated legal office,” Reagins-Lilly said then. “It’s a great responsibility to sit with all those documents and make sure we’re all satisfied.”

At the University of Houston, the school’s Election Commission disqualified president-elect Michael McHugh after they found him guilty of committing voter fraud. The commission charged McHugh and two members of his team with obtaining student identification numbers under false pretenses and using the numbers to vote for themselves in the elections. McHugh hired Jolanda Jones, an attorney and former city council member, to fight for his reinstatement, but lost the case.

McHugh said each college has the right to establish a disqualification clause, but with such rules comes great responsibility. He said he advises universities to be very careful when incorporating such clauses in their election codes.

“By including a disqualification clause in the election code, students focus too much of their time on trying to remove their competitors from the ballot and spreading hearsay rumors to justify their claims rather than focusing on their own campaign and winning the right way,” McHugh said.

Taylor Kilroy, a member of the election reform task force at the University of Houston, said he spoke to legal representatives for UH about reviewing the student government association’s election rules and other governing documents but was unsure on whether they will be reviewed by next year’s elections. Kilroy said UH is working on making the election code more succinct and implement a system that includes password protection in order to vote.

He said UH already passed legislation to ensure the students who oversee the elections only handle election offenses and not disciplinary action.

W.H. “Butch” Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, said it is common to see candidate disqualifications in the approximately 5,000 student government associations around the country. He said there should be a fine or another punishment instead of disqualification.

Oxendine said disqualifying candidates causes great harm to the reputation of a student government organization and leads students to lose faith in the organizations, which leads to low voter turnout and involvement. He pointed out a case at Florida International University, where candidate scandals and disqualifications caused the student court to recall the results and hold the elections again.

“The general student body doesn’t care about student government,” Oxendine said. “When you see these kind of shenanigans, you think of kids playing government again instead of [focusing on] what is SG doing for us.”

Winning candidate Thor Lund talks on the phone Thursday night after the Student Government results were announced to more than 80 supporters. Lund and his running mate Wills Brown captured the presidency with 2,571 votes over John Lawler’s 2,112.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Weeks of campaigning, candidate disqualifications and judicial review culminated in a Thursday gathering of more than 80 supporters for Student Government presidential candidates John Lawler and Thor Lund.

Lund and running mate Wills Brown captured the presidency with 2,571 votes, defeating Lawler, who received 2,112. A total of 4,483 students voted.

The campaign period extended from Feb. 15 to March 29, about six weeks compared to the usual two. Voter turnout for the presidential and vice presidential race decreased about 41 percent compared to last year, when 7,883 students voted in the runoff election for current SG president Natalie Butler and former presidential candidate Abel Mulugheta.

In 2010, 8,654 students voted in the presidential runoff, with president-elect Scott Parks receiving 4,801 and opponent Minator Azemi receiving 3,853.

This year is the first time the Election Supervisory Board disqualified two presidential candidates since SG outlawed the ticket system in 2008, in which students could run together under a party or banner that year in order to give each candidate a fair chance at getting elected.

Lund has never been involved in SG and said he is facing a sharp learning curve. While he and Brown started alone at the beginning, Lund said the most challenging part of campaigning was wondering if elections were ever going to happen.

“A lot of people were wondering if we were ever going to have this day,” Lund said. “With each challenge we grow stronger. We’ve come out so much stronger and better after this. It has been a blessing in disguise.”

Lund said he ran a campaign focused on the students and wants to provide 24-hour access to the Perry-Castañeda Library, renovate Anna Hiss Gym and provide healthier late-night food options, among goals. Lund said he and Brown bring a new perspective to SG, and he invites everyone to get involved.

“Don’t be discouraged,” Lund said. “Anyone who wants to get involved, get involved. Me and Wills have no bias against anyone and we’re very excited.”

Lawler said he is surprised at the low voter turnout. He said during the election he did not anticipate Madison Gardner would sue UT, the prolonging of the elections or running with two great candidates like Lund and Brown. Lawler said he is grateful for the students who supported his campaign.

“What would I do differently, I would say not a thing,” Lawler said. “There have been several things that were out of our control, but at the end of the day, Terrence and I are very proud of the issues-based campaign we ran.”

Lawler said he would continue to be involved with SG as much as possible and fulfill his campaign promise to fight for students at UT and in West Campus. He said he would welcome any opportunity to work with Lund and Brown next year.

Former presidential candidate Madison Gardner was disqualified twice, once on Feb. 22 and again on March 21, for violating the SG Election Code. Former candidate Yaman Desai was disqualified on Feb. 20 for misrepresenting his campaign and committing fraud.

Gardner said Monday he expected voter turnout to be low this year because students had not been given the chance to elect their own SG president and vice president because of the disqualifications. With more than 100 campaign volunteers, Gardner had one of the largest campaign teams this year.

Election Supervisory Board chair Eric Nimmer said elections were different this year because there was a functioning Election Code and judicial body to make sure rules and procedure were being carried out.

“In prior years, if something happened the Election Code could not be drawn out,” Nimmer said. “We have a functioning means to [address] bad behavior.”

Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly said she will be working with Lund and Brown during the next few weeks to address changes to the Election Code. The code encountered scrutiny when Gardner filed a lawsuit against the University on Feb. 27, claiming the association provision in the code violated his constitutional rights.

“Every [SG] group is different,” Reagins-Lilly said. “There is a new group of students and they’re learning. They’ll have to rethink and clarify the [Election Code], and I have confidence in the student governing process.”

Printed on Friday, March 30, 2012 as: SG candidate Lund takes presidency

Six weeks ago, the Student Government presidential and vice presidential races each had five candidates. After weeks of deliberation over the disqualification of candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara, the SG Judicial Court gave the final word Monday, leaving only two candidates on the ballot.

After more than six hours of deliberation and testimony from multiple parties, the SG Judicial Court sustained the Election Supervisory Board’s second disqualification of Gardner and Guevara Monday. Gardner said the court’s decision was tough to hear but said he did not plan to appeal to the Office of the Dean of Students or a Travis County court.

The SG presidential elections will take place Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The candidates are urban studies senior John Lawler and mechanical engineering senior Thor Lund.

Gardner said his and Guevara’s options for reinstatement on the ballot are limited at this point. He said he thinks the Board is biased against them because they disqualified Guevara and him twice.

“If you look at it, this is very unprecedented,” Gardner said. “There’s never been a disqualification like this over a small thing. If it were any other year, we wouldn’t have gotten disqualified. If it was any other candidate, we wouldn’t have gotten disqualified.”

Gardner said while he currently serves as external financial director for SG President Natalie Butler, he did not approve the Election Code because he does not vote on legislation. The SG General Assembly approved the Election Code on Jan. 17 with the association provision that disqualified Gardner and Guevara the first time.

The Board first disqualified the pair on Feb. 22 for associating with a candidate from another race. Gardner subsequently filed a lawsuit against UT for violating his First Amendment rights to association, but dropped the lawsuit when UT suspended the association provision for review on March 19 and reinstated him and Guevara.

“It’s unfortunate it really only takes five people to control the board,” Gardner said. “It’s unfortunate students weren’t able to decide. That’s the reality — we didn’t have a chance to get voted on. If our offenses are so serious let students decide that, not nine people.”

The SG General Assembly must look into the Election Code with diligence so unjust disqualifications do not happen in the future, Gardner said.

The candidates appealed their second disqualification last week, claiming the Board violated procedure when administering the disqualification, thereby violating their Fifth and Sixth Amendment constitutional rights. The Fifth Amendment protects people from being tried for the same offence twice, while the Sixth Amendment gives the affected party a right to know charges filed against him in order to gather a counsel.

Lawler said although the elections have lasted longer than he originally thought, he sees them as a test for him and running mate Terrence Maas. He said he and Maas have spent their time speaking at different organizations while the Election Supervisory Board and SG Judicial Court deliberated Gardner’s disqualification.

"[The prolonging of the elections] has been a distractor to all the positive things that have been going on with our campaign," Lawler said. “We’re not concerned with what’s fair and unfair at the moment, we’re trying to bring specific issues to light.”

Lund said a lot of students have been confused as to what exactly is going on in the SG presidential elections. Lund and running mate Wills Brown recently launched a campaign video entitled “Sh*t nobody says about SG elections” in an attempt to show students they sympathize with their frustration.

Lund said he feels the elections have been fair to his campaign.

“Fair is an interesting word because a lot of things aren’t fair, but I don’t feel that we’ve been wronged,” Lund said. “It’s not the situation that defines you, but how you perceive the situation.”

Lawler has not had any complaints filed against him during the elections. Lund has had one complaint filed against him by Gardner/Guevara campaign manager Alex Jones for copyright infringement, but he did not acquire any fines.

Gardner said he was very confident he and Guevara had a good chance of winning the elections and does not know if he will support a candidate for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s elections between Lawler and Lund. He said he does not know if he will stay at UT for another year to finish his Spanish degree or graduate with the McCombs School of Business in May.

If he does stay, he has not decided whether he will be involved in SG again.

“I’m not going to completely check out because I’m not president,” Gardner said. “A lot of me thinks it’s still possible to have an impact and improve campus and be a leader.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Judicial Court upholds Gardner disqualification 

Charles Maddox, former chair and current emeritus member of the Election Supervisory Board, consults with ESB member Cody Permenter during the Gardner and Guevara appeal, Sunday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Judicial Court is set to determine whether the Election Supervisory Board violated procedure in administering the disqualification of former SG candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara today.

The candidates appealed the Board’s ruling last Thursday and claimed the Election Supervisory Board violated procedure when evaluating a complaint against their campaign. In their appeal, Gardner and Guevara claim the Board violated their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and petitioned to have their disqualification be reassessed by the Board.

Gardner stated the Board infringed on his and Guevara’s constitutional rights because they tried them twice for procuring services from a professional web designer, a violation of the Fifth Amendment that protects people against double jeopardy. The Board ruled on Feb. 10 the candidates did not violate any rules because the designer in question, James Skidmore, is a student at Texas A&M and not a professional. The Election Code requires candidates report all professional services at fair market value even if they were granted said services at a discounted rate.

Gardner also claimed the Board violated their Sixth Amendment right, alleging Board chair Eric Nimmer filed a complaint against them during the hearing for not reporting an earlier campaign fine issued by the Board. Furthermore, Gardner claimed they were not given a hearing for this infraction. This violation, stated Gardner in the argument, denied them of the right to be informed, to be confronted of the witnesses against them and to have the assistance of a counsel for their defense.

Nimmer said he does not feel the Board’s decision violated the U.S. Constitution. He also said he did not file a complaint against the candidates but had discovered a violation during the hearing, which the rules allow. He said he received a blank financial statement from the candidates March 19 along with a message stating they had not incurred any expenses or received contributions since the disclosure they submitted on Feb. 15.

Aakash Kumar, who represented Gardner and Guevara to the Judicial Court, said the court must look toward the U.S. Constitution as a guideline for their decision.

“Think about this in term of intent,” Kumar said, claiming the candidates did not intend to falsify their documents to gain an advantage. “Apply a [Constitutional] higher standard when you’re making a decision, a standard we govern living by. Outside of this, we don’t live on what the ESB said.”

Kumar also said the punishments delivered by the court were too severe for the mistakes they had committed, which were not willful and blatant. To support this claim, Kumar cited the case of current SG president Natalie Butler and vice president Ashley Baker. Butler and Baker acquired approximately $405 in fines, more than 50 percent of their campaign budget, last semester and were tried for violating campaigning rules during moratorium multiple times but were not disqualified.

The Election Code has since changed since Butler and Baker ran. Last year, candidates were not penalized for the amount of fines they acquired. Today, candidates who exceed 20 percent of their total campaign budget in fines are
automatically disqualified.

At the hearing, candidate Guevara said he did not know he had sent Nimmer inaccurate financial documents and that they had accidentally sent the wrong file.

Nimmer said the hearing was the first time he had heard the wrong document had been sent, but he affirmed that the candidates had taken no prior action to rectify the mistake on their financials and would still be disqualified.

He said last year the Election Code required candidates actions to be proven blatant and willful to merit disqualification, a clause that does not exist in the code this year. He said the Board does not have to determine whether a candidate’s actions are willful and blatant because it does not matter anymore.

“Their only defense was not that they didn’t do it,” Nimmer said. “But that ‘it’s our bad and you guys were nicer last year.’ And I don’t care, because the Election Code says our Board has discretion and that’s nine people.”

Editor’s note: From the Republican presidential candidates to efficiency in higher education, these are among our favorite quotes from the past several days.

“You’ll have the opportunity here, in the state of Texas, to speak very loudly about what kind of leader you want in this country. ... This is an important state for us.”
— Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on his chances for victory in the Texas Republican primary, according to The Washington Post.

“[Texas] can’t keep turning back federal funds that every state gets and then try to find money in our budget which is already being cut in key areas like education.”
— Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Thursday on the state’s move to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the Women’s Health Program, according to NPR. The state’s exclusion prompted the federal government to withdraw funding from the program altogether.

“It was the three most exhilarating hours of my life.”
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry joking on his short-lived campaign for president at an annual dinner that includes a roast of politicians, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“I’m not surprised that there’s a major public discussion. The question is whether the right kinds of strategies are being pushed to improve that situation. I doubt that.”
— Former UT President Larry Faulkner on the recent push for efficiency in higher education, according to The Texas Tribune.

The Election Supervisory Board disqualified Student Government executive alliance candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara on Wednesday for falsifying of financial records, disregarding an election fine and failing to comply with the election code. Gardner and Guevara appealed the ESB’s decision, and the following quotes are from the judicial court’s resulting hearing Sunday.

“I’m sorry, you should make less mistakes. ... That alone qualifies you for a disqualification.”
— ESB Chair Eric Nimmer on questions regarding the severity of the ESB’s decision to disqualify Gardner and Guevara.

“I’m supposed to go under the guise ... that you keep making mistakes, but you are making mistakes that are convenient to your campaign.”
— Nimmer on whether the Gardner/Guevara campaign’s recent violations constitute mistakes or negligence.

“Leaving out the fine on our financials wasn’t of any strategic value for the campaign. The disclosure wasn’t public at the time.”
— Aakash Kumar, who represented the Gardner/Guevara campaign at the hearing, on the failure of the campaign to include a fine on its most recent financial statement to the ESB.

“This has been the most stressful few weeks of my life. ... I have three weeks of laundry piled up.”
— Alex Jones, a Gardner/Guevara supporter, on the most recent mistakes of the campaign.

Election Supervisory Board members listen to complaints against the Madison/Antonio campaign by SG law school representative Austin Carlson on March 20.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Judicial Court will decide on Sunday whether there was procedural error in the Election Supervisory Board’s decision to disqualify former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara.

The Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara for a second time Wednesday night after finding the candidates had willingly falsified their financial documents, displayed negligence for disregarding a fine the Board gave them in February and violating the Election Code as a whole various times. Gardner and Guevara appealed the decision Thursday, claiming the Board committed five procedural errors resulting in an unjustified disqualification.

Alden Harris, Judicial Court chief justice, said Gardner and Guevara deserve to have an appeal because of the severity of the ruling.

“We ought to give them a hearing any time there’s this type of nuclear ruling that disqualifies them,” Harris said. “[Gardner] clearly raises some points that are worthy of our consideration and worthy of having a hearing.”

Harris said it is unfortunate the hearing will be held two days before the election, but said Gardner made the decision because he could not get his counsel to a meeting on Thursday. Supply chain management senior Aakash Kumar will represent Gardner before the court.

Gardner is not allowed to campaign until the Court reviews his appeal. Gardner declined to comment prior to the hearing.

Among the complaints, the former candidates claimed Board chair Eric Nimmer filed a complaint against them during the hearing after he asked them if they had believed their financial statement to be accurate. Nimmer asked if they had included their earlier February fine in the statement, which they had not. Gardner charges this as a complaint because the Board failed to inform the affected parties of the complaint beforehand.

According to the Election Code, Board members are prohibited from filing complaints, and complaints must be provided in writing.

This is the second time Gardner and Guevara have claimed Nimmer played a direct role in their disqualification. They previously filed an appeal for their first disqualification, claiming Nimmer was biased, and submitted audio evidence of conversations with Nimmer.

The Judicial Court ruled Nimmer was not biased in the first Board disqualification decision. Harris said on Feb. 26 there was no way Nimmer could have influenced the vote of nine Board members, and his comments reflected thoughts on the candidate’s behavior, not their appeal.

Gardner and Guevara also claimed since the complaint was not formally filed, it violates procedure since the Board can only take action against a candidate after a hearing on the particular violation. They also claimed the Board did not consider precedents set by previous cases and delivered an inaccurate punishment based on the actions at hand.

Nimmer said the Board did not err in their decision and the procedures taken to disqualify the candidates were by the book. He said he did not submit a complaint against the parties because all the information taken into consideration was uncovered during a hearing, where the purpose is to collect information.

“I don’t understand how I could ever set this up in any case that’s rational,” Nimmer said. “I do write [the decisions], but that’s me tailoring what we all have said as a group.”

Nimmer said even if the Court decides there is error, it still would not change Gardner and Guevara’s disqualification because they have affirmed they did commit falsification by turning in the wrong receipt for their website and negligence by failing to cite the fine on their financial documents.

View the complete appeal by Madison and Antonio, as well as the brief by Nimmer below:

Gardner-Guevara AppealNimmer Brief

Printed on Friday, March 23, 2012 as: SG candidates await Court decision regarding appeal

Editor’s note: From current candidates to observing students, the following firing lines represent the many reactions to the Student Government (SG) election and the role of the Election Supervisory Board (ESB). All executive alliance candidates were asked to contribute.

DQ the ESB

Yet again, the ESB unnecessarily disqualified Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara, candidates for SG president and vice president. The most recent disqualification truly illuminates the ESB’s feelings toward the pair; the ESB completely disregarded any formal procedures.

The ESB is designed to supervise any formal complaints from students during the election process, so the members give up their right to make formal complaints. In violation of the election code, a member of the ESB brought forth a complaint during the Tuesday night hearing. Additionally, complaints that are not dismissed must then be discussed in a hearing as stated in 4.03 of the Election Code. The ESB failed to follow such procedure.

There is an obvious issue with the ESB this year, which reflects poorly on the election, candidates and student government. The ESB needs to think before acting so drastically in an already fragile race that will decide who will lead our student body. Madison and Antonio fought to maintain their spot on the ballot, and for the ESB to be so careless about procedure is ludicrous. Accordingly, the ESB’s actions display blatant hypocrisy, seeing as its complaint focuses on procedure in the first place. If we continue to have students overseeing the election process, then the ESB should be well-versed and precise in its rulings. There is no reason for Madison and Antonio to be disqualified, but the ESB, on the other hand, needs a DQ.

Samantha Smith
Middle Eastern studies and Arabic sophomore

Igniting a movement

Terrence and I are resolved to continue focusing on the overarching goals of our campaign — raising awareness and advocating for our platform and the communities it aims to represent.

Other candidates’ disqualifications don’t change much for us — our goals haven’t changed, our platform is solid and our list of supporters keeps growing. We’re stepping up our speaker circuiting now more than ever, and we’re deeply appreciative of the many new students who have heard our pitch, expressed their support and spread our message grassroots style.

We believe in students and we believe in the sleeping potential of SG. If we’re elected, we hope to induce a major perception shift and work to mend the relationship between the two. For now, we soldier on, and we abide in the dream of an empowered student body. This is about igniting a movement and it starts right now.

John Lawler
Candidate for SG President

A fresh perspective

These past two months have been an experience to say the least. With all that has occurred there is no saying what could happen in the next couple of days; however, we want the students to know that we are still here for them. We have kept their best interests in mind from the very beginning and will continue to do just that.

The election process has brought a lot of exposure to SG and we understand many students have lost trust in the organization. As SG outsiders, we bring a fresh perspective. We are confident that, if elected, we can restore faith that SG is here to serve the people who matter most — the students.

Thor Lund and Wills Brown
Candidates for SG President and Vice President

Managing egos

Recent controversies surrounding SG elections have drawn attention away from the real issue — representing the voice of the student body. Every spring, we go through a dog and pony show to elect our new student leaders, and invariably violations occur. Yes, this year’s controversies are several orders in magnitude higher than in years past, but every election’s issues boil down to managing egos.

It’s beyond time for everyone involved in this year’s election — from the individual candidates to the ESB to, yes, The Daily Texan — to put their egos aside and allow the University to move on. No matter the outcome of this election, it’s time for everyone involved to recognize the best interest of the University and settle these disputes in an honest, civilized manner. This is the only way that SG can get beyond this immediate turmoil and get back to working for students — which is what SG does best.

Michael Redding
President-elect of the Graduate Student Assembly, Texas Student Media contract employee

A mockery of the University

SG likes to contend that it represents the student population at UT. Last year, only about 8,000 of those students voted in SG elections, hardly a majority of more than 51,000 total UT students. Toward that end, we propose that if less than a quarter of the student body votes in this year’s SG presidential election, then SG should be considered without a mandate and disband. A university organization cannot represent an entire student body if it does not even represent a quarter of that same body.

Furthermore, this year’s candidates have made a mockery of both this University’s laws, honor and integrity. SG should be about democracy and integrity, not childlike mock heroics. The time has come for the silent majority to stand up and demand that the University end this ridiculous display of idiocy. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be represented by students who are elected by the few and disgrace the many.

Garrett Hopper and Grant Smith
Supply chain management and economics senior and history senior

The human element

I couldn’t have written a script with more twists and turns than those I’ve seen play out over the past five weeks during this election cycle. I have many friends who worked hard on other campaigns for weeks now, and at the end of the day, it hurts to see them struggle through adversity.

I wish we were more attuned to our human element. We all tend to get a little cold during campaign season; it’s easy to lose some of our sensitivity toward others and some of our discernment.

Looking back on the year and a half I spent in SG, I have, at different times, been disingenuous, too headstrong, unwise and just generally imperfect. But the truth that eventually impressed itself onto me is that we can’t let the past dictate our present. We’re all a little imperfect.

My exhortation to all of us SG junkies is this: Don’t hold grudges, don’t take SG personally and don’t be afraid to grow from mistakes. Get back in the fight and do something great. We’re all on the same side. When we truly believe that, our community will be an even better place.

Matt Portillo
Music and rhetoric and writing senior
John Lawler campaign volunteer

Printed on Friday, March 23, 2012 as: The trials and tribulations of election season

Eric Nimmer, Election Supervisory Board chair, listens to Aakash Kumar’s argument regarding Student Government candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara, Tuesday night. Law student Austin Carlson filed eight complaints against the candidates for financial discretions and Election Code violations.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A day after being reinstated, Student Government presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara stood before the Election Supervisory Board yet again for complaints filed against their campaign.

Austin Carlson, SG law school representative, filed a complaint against Gardner and Guevara calling for their disqualification Monday evening. Carlson claims the candidates did not accurately report campaign expenses and intentionally falsified their financial documents. The Board heard the complaint at a public hearing Tuesday night.

The board has until Thursday night to determine the consequences the campaign will face. Currently, elections for executive alliances are scheduled for March 28 and 29.

Carlson filed five counts of financial violations against Gardner and Guevara. He claims they received professional help on their website, although the Board ruled they were not in violation of this on Feb. 20, bought multiple domain names while not using the one listed on their financial statement, held an event where they displayed unaccounted promotional material with their names on it, did not account for several painted boards with their slogan “Unite Texas” and did not account for painting supplies evident in photos on their website. The candidates currently use, which cost about $24, but submitted a receipt for, which cost about $17.

Carlson said he filed the complaint as an individual student and not an SG representative. He said although UT has reinstated the pair to review the association clause of the Election Code for which they were previously disqualified, the financial rules of the code are clear.

According to the Election Code, any candidate who acquires more than 20 percent of their campaign spending limit in fines will be automatically disqualified.

Carlson said if Gardner gets disqualified for financial violations, Gardner will not be able to sue to get back on the ballot. Regarding whether UT will allow the Board to disqualify Gardner and Guevara again, Carlson said UT has no choice.

“If the ESB fines them and the [Judicial] Court confirms that, I don’t see why the University won’t honor that,” Carlson said. “That’s the problem, if the candidate has enough money and they don’t like the outcome [of a decision], they can sue.”

Carlson said he is not committed to any candidate in the race at the moment and is filing of his own accord.

Aakash Kumar, a supply chain management senior who worked on Abel Mulugheta and Sameer Desai’s campaign last year, represented Gardner and Guevara to the ESB. Kumar argued Carlson was nitpicking at the rules and using them against Gardner and Guevara.

Kumar said contrary to Carlson’s argument, Gardner and Guevara did provide receipts for paint supplies and boards. Kumar also said the T-shirt Carlson listed as an accounted promotional expense, on which Gardner wrote his and Guevara’s name in paint, was given to Gardner for free at a local event.

He said the Board had already previously ruled the candidates not to be in violation for using a Web consultant and bringing the charge up again would be the equivalent to double jeopardy.

Eric Nimmer, Election Supervisory Board chair, asked Gardner why he did not include the 10 percent fine the Board issued to their campaign on Feb. 20. The Board fined the candidates for renting wood from a local fraternity house and failing to list its market value in their financial disclosure. Gardner said he submitted a new financial disclosure hours after being reinstated yesterday, and not including it was an honest mistake.

“There are two parts I see to intent,” Nimmer said at the hearing. “One is malicious and two is negligence.”

Gardner said he feels he and Guevara have run a clean and ethical campaign. He said it is tough to know how the Board will decide, but he hopes they take all the facts into account.

Kumar said he thinks the campaign made a mistake in accidentally turning in the wrong receipt and forgetting to report the 10 percent fine on their financial disclosure and should be issued a fine, but not another disqualification.

“Nitpicking affects campaigning and how much the candidates can dedicate to a campaign,” Kumar said. “It’s very difficult to watch out for the minute details. People are not going to run if it’s this complicated.”

Printed on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 as: SG candidates charged after reinstatement

Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara got back on the executive alliance ballot Monday when dean of students Soncia Reagins-Lilly announced the suspension of the election code provision against candidates associating with one another. Their reinstatement is likely to only intensify the ad hominem attacks and cries of class warfare that opponents have leveled against Gardner since he filed a lawsuit against the University at the end of last month. Although the mixed reactions to Gardner’s out-of-court settlement and personal attacks against him and Guevara certainly generate entertaining rhetoric, candidates and the student body alike continue to ignore the gravest implications of the suit: voter apathy, a scarcity of future candidates and damage to the reputation of Student Government.

I should include as a disclaimer that I initially supported Gardner’s pursuit of legal action in response to what I saw as an unfair disqualification that revealed an undue focus on election code minutiae. The Election Supervisory Board’s decision implied that a simple oversight with regard to campaign materials merits the same punishment as the impersonation of a University official, the offense for which the Yaman and Whitney campaign was disqualified. However, as the drama wore on I began to question the wisdom of the lawsuit not only on legal grounds but also out of concern for the suit’s effects on subsequent elections and on SG itself. The contention and conflict that have become synonymous with SG elections over the past few years will not be quelled by Gardner’s reinstatement. Instead, they continue to threaten the validity of this election and deter potential candidates who do not wish to face such stringent regulations and high-profile controversy.

Although the Gardner campaign is celebrating the reinstatement as a vindication of its grievances, for the past few weeks the remaining candidates, John Lawler and Thor Lund, have capitalized on the negative publicity surrounding the suit to launch populist appeals and paint themselves as “everyman” alternatives to Gardner’s purported financial hegemony. Public opinion is difficult to gauge, but it seems that even if Gardner and Guevara manage to win the election, the dark shadow of the controversial lawsuit and deleterious portraits that it has inspired would overshadow their term in office and undermine their credibility.

The Gardner scandal’s ramifications, however, extend far beyond the current election. Gardner himself admitted in a Daily Texan interview that the postponement is likely to decrease voter turnout. The greater the controversy and the longer the wait, the less interested students will be in tracking new developments. Indeed, the postponement of the executive alliance race appears to have already discouraged students; voter turnout was down significantly from last year for the other SG races that were held on schedule. Eliminating the highest-profile race from the ballot apparently discouraged students from voting in the other races, potentially altering the results. It remains to be seen whether the widely publicized contention over Gardner’s lawsuit and subsequent restoration to the ballot has sparked voter interest in the race or only increased apathy toward what likely seems to the average student an increasingly distant and bloody-minded Student Government.

Gardner’s ordeal may also deter students from running for SG positions. Regardless of its validity, the court battle may discourage future presidential hopefuls for whom the costs of public scrutiny, campaign micromanagement and the potential for real legal disputes outweigh the benefits of an SG title. Gardner’s reinstatement is unlikely to silence those fears for many potential candidates, as, admittedly, it was accomplished through Gardner’s uncommon financial ability to hire an attorney.

Though the battle has moved out of the Travis County courthouse, it rages on in the court of public opinion and continues to deter both voters and potential candidates. In the absence of a judge’s ruling, we can only hope that this heated dispute will spur a reexamination of SG election procedures and lead to reforms to make candidacy more accessible and less intimidating.

Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.