Yaman Desai

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past two weeks or you’re part of the majority of the campus population that doesn’t care about Student Government, you’ve heard about the two disqualifications of candidates running for SG president and vice president.

Yes, two of the five campaigns for president of the student body have been disqualified. Judging by the signs in front of what I like to call the super PACs of the University — the sorority and frat houses — and the screams of their minions in the West Mall — overzealous pamphlet-distributing freshmen — the two disqualified campaigns were the front-runners.

For those of you outside of the SG bubble, let’s recap what happened. First, former presidential candidate Yaman Desai and his running mate Whitney Langston were disqualified after one of the members of their campaign misrepresented herself to get information about the campaign website of their opponents Madison Garnder and Antonio Guevara. Desai and Langston went so far as to challenge their disqualification until the campaigner showed the The Daily Texan the emails in which Desai asking her to lie about her association with his campaign. He only dropped out of the race when there was incontrovertible proof illustrating his actions. Looks like we all dodged a bullet. Thankfully, Desai won’t be president of SG.

With Desai and Langston out of the race and with the diversity that Guevara brought to the table — Guevara was the only minority candidate that remained — the path was clear for them to win the race — that is, until the Desai and Langston campaign got involved. In a move I’d like to call “The Yaman Strikes Back: Revenge of the Whitney,” Jasmine Kyles, a former member of the Desai/Langston campaign, filed a complaint against the Gardner/Guevara team that resulted in the latter’s disqualification. While Kyles released an online statement claiming she acted without malice, it seems naive to think she acted otherwise considering her loyalty to Desai and his fraudulent actions.

While the punishment for Gardner and Guevara seems rather harsh given that they were disqualified for having an association with another candidate because of a picture in their promotional materials, don’t go feeling sorry for them. First, they were warned about the offense before the disqualification and refused to act. And now Gardner and Guevara are showing their true colors by suing the University for violating their constitutional rights.

Are you kidding me? They were disqualified for breaking the rules after they were warned once about their actions. Now they got the Travis County Court to postpone the presidential elections so they have a chance to get back on the election ballot? What a waste of everyone’s time and money — Travis County’s, the University’s and students’ — over some self-indulgent whining. You broke the rules, you got punished. Deal with it.

So we’re left with two campaigns: John Lawler/Terrence Maas and Thor Lund/Wills Brown.

Lund and Brown offer such novel ideas as giant campus events in the fall and spring for the students, which makes me wonder if they’ve ever heard of Forty Acres Fest, Explore UT, Texas THON or the Orange and White Ball, just to name a few.

“Big John” and Maas want to “increase profit sharing from the University trademark, a department currently housed within UT Athletics,” to increase revenue, according to their campaign website. Let me get this straight: They think their roles as SG president and vice president will allow them to restructure and redistribute the earnings of a system that is housed in multiple departments and that SG doesn’t have direct control over? Insert scoff and disbelief here.

Both campaigns want to increase campus safety by expanding the SURE walk program, but I can’t help but point out that the Butler/Baker campaign of 2011 promised the same exact thing. Even after the rapes and murder that rocked the campus early this year, nothing has been done to make West Campus any safer ­— at least not by SG — so I’m going to call foul on SG’s ability to get this campaign promise done.

It’s not that any of these ideas are bad, but SG presidential candidates love to make promises to change things they have no control over. When they don’t promise things that they could actually put into practice, how are we supposed to take these campaigns seriously?

With the scandals, lies and empty promises that have defined this election campaign so far, is it any wonder that so few students vote or care at all?

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.

Student government candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara listen to Thor Lund and Wills Brown speak at Monday night’s debate. The Gardner campaign appealed to have its disqualification overturned, but the SG Judicial Court chose not to hear their appeal.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara will be unable to reenter the Student Government presidential and vice presidential race after the SG Judicial Court declined to hear their appeal of the Election Supervisory Board’s disqualification.

The Election Supervisory Board disqualified Gardner and Guevara on Wednesday for including Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley in their promotional materials, which include pictures, fliers and media on their website. Gardner and Guevara appealed the decision Thursday night and claimed Kelley told them she had no intention of running when the media was produced on Jan. 21. With Gardner’s disqualification, along with the disqualification of Yaman Desai and the withdrawal of Ryan Shingledecker, John Lawler and Thor Lund are the only remaining candidates in the SG presidential race.

Students had until Feb. 12 to sign up to run in the campus-wide elections and could begin campaigning Feb. 15.

Alexander Jones, Gardner and Guevara’s campaign manager, defended the campaign on Wednesday and said the complaint filed did not have genuine intentions, according to the board’s minutes. Jones also said the board had approved the campaign materials before they were distributed, so the Gardner campaign had no reason to believe they were problematic. Jasmine Kyles, who supported former candidates Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston, submitted the complaint on Tuesday.

“Since the disqualification, all the Yaman and Whitney media [produced] under Kyles has remained up online,” Jones said, according to the minutes. “This is evidence of her continued loyalty and support of said campaign.”

Jones said Desai and Langston continue to publicly oppose the Gardner and Guevara campaign. He said although Gardner and Guevara knew about the violation beforehand, it would have been difficult to completely rectify the damage or remove the materials.

“We believe that this complaint is an attack intended to hurt our campaign, not to ensure universal campaigning fairness,” Jones said. “We admit that it was a mistake that Kelley is included in our media.”

In a statement, Gardner said the campaign believes the board made the wrong decision and will continue to pursue its goals for the student body.

“We believe that the ESB was self-evidently incorrect in their decision,” he said in the statement. “Our team is not satisfied but are so very proud of our effort. We will continue our campaign to Unite Texas.”

Kyles said she had removed herself from the Desai and Langston campaign and she filed the complaint because she found it to be a violation of the code.

Kelley said she does not endorse Gardner and Guevara publicly and she had no intent to run at the time of the photos. She said she participated as a friend and the alleged violation was not deliberate.

Under the Election Code, only the presidential and vice presidential candidates may campaign together and any association between candidates of any kind will not be tolerated and can result in immediate disqualification.

The board stated the complaint had been filed in a reasonable amount of time to justify disqualification. It also said Gardner and Guevara have been in violation since they began campaigning on Feb. 15 and have made no known effort to remove or distort Kelley’s presence in their media.

Board chair Eric Nimmer said he was not surprised the SG Judicial Court had chosen not to grant Gardner and Guevara the appeal because the board had already gone through the disqualification procedures correctly. The Judicial Court can only act in situations when the board acts improperly. They have no authority to reverse decisions or alter sentences based on the content of a case.

“Everything [we] did I deemed as reasonable,” Nimmer said. “You do not have grounds for appeal unless there was a procedural error.”

Lawler said it was unfortunate that the race had to come down to this point and offered sympathy for those who participated in the Gardner and Guevara campaign. Lawler said he feels the disqualification will have a negative impact on voter turnout and SG’s image for next year.

“It’s unfortunate SG had to face these scandals yet another year,” he said. “But we encourage student voters to look past the scandals of today and look forward to what the two remaining campaigns will offer tomorrow.”

Lund said the disqualification was unfortunate but he will continue to move forward with his campaign. Lund said he offered his best to Gardner and Guevara.

Printed on Friday, February 24, 2012 as: Court denies Gardner, Guevara appeal

Former Student Government Presidental candidate Yaman Desai stands outside the room where the appellate court hearing, intended to review evidence that his campaign violated student government rules, is about to be held Monday night. Desai and his running mate resigned after evidence surfaced that Desai had in fact asked Ainee Athar via email to lie in order to obtain information about the Maddison Gardner campaign.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Student Government presidential candidate Yaman Desai and running mate Whitney Langston dropped out of the election Monday after the campaign’s ethics came into question by the Election Supervisory Board.

The board disqualified Desai’s campaign Monday afternoon for violating the election code and committing fraud by misrepresenting itself to the web designer for opponent Madison Gardner’s campaign in an attempt to obtain incriminating information about the Gardner campaign’s financial records. Desai’s campaign immediately filed an appeal of the board’s decision to the SG appellate court, which heard their case Monday night.

Emails obtained by The Daily Texan demonstrate that Desai asked one of his campaign agents to lie in order to get the information. After the Texan described the content of the emails to the appellate court seeking clarification, Desai withdrew his appeal.

In a Feb. 15 email from Desai, he tells international relations and global studies senior Ainee Athar to ask James Skidmore, a Gardner campaign web designer, for any records that could prove Gardner had violated the rules by receiving professional services without reporting the cost in his financial disclosures. Desai told Athar he needed proof to incriminate Gardner later on that day and to lie about her identity to get Skidmore to release information if necessary.

“You should be able to call them and just ask for the info,” Desai said in the email. “If that doesn’t work, we might be able to ask the ESB to look into it and force Madison to produce some record. Try calling and saying that you’re with Madison’s team/a friend and he asked you to call because he needs a copy of the invoice and you need it sent to you so you can print it. It’s a bit of a long shot, but it’s worth a try.”

Under the original complaint to the board, Gardner campaign manager Alex Jones stated that Athar identified herself to Skidmore as an “election supervisory representative.” During the hearing, and before the emails were obtained, Desai and Langston said Athar presented herself as an agent for their campaign without their consent.

Langston and Desai said they had never met Athar before Sunday, so they should not be held responsible for things she did before she was an agent of the campaign.

In Athar’s email reply to Desai on Feb. 15, she said she would not lie to the web designer because it would get Desai in trouble.

Athar said she was told by Desai not to come to the hearing on Monday. She said she was shocked when she heard Desai and Langston lied about her involvement in the campaign and attempted to pin the blame on her. She said she had no intention of identifying herself as part of the supervisory board but instead thought “election supervisory representative” was her title for Desai’s team.

“If I had been told to go to the hearing I would have been willing to go [there] and say that this was something that I did,” Athar said. “Not that I willfully lied but that I just made a mistake with the wording, and I would have stepped down if [Desai] asked.”

Gardner’s campaign manager communication studies junior Alex Jones said he brought up the misrepresentation claim because Athar had filed complaints against Gardner. When Jones was made aware of the emails from Desai to Athar, he said he did not know how to react.

“The evidence they supplied [and how they got it] is what the Board classifies as fraud,” Jones said. “It’s unsettling someone would be allowed to get their name tainted to win a Student Government election because that could affect [Athar’s] career in the future.”

Gardner said his campaign has been very careful to tell their approximately 120 team members what they can and cannot do. He said the change to the Election Code and the section that reads candidates will be disqualified if they exceed 20 percent of their spending limit in fines drove them to be extremely careful.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to Yaman and their campaign team,” Gardner said. “It just goes to show the impact of what negative actions could do.”

The Election Supervisory Board ruled Gardner was in violation of the Election Code for renting wood from the Fiji House for $1 per week, a rate much lower than the market value. The Election Code states contributions and expenditures or in kind efforts must be listed and valued at their fair price, as determined by the Election Board. Gardner was issued a ten percent violation fine against his campaign. The Board did not deem Gardner’s website to be in violation of the Election Code and recommended no action because there was no evidence to prove the website was designed by a professional, said ESB co-chair Truc Nguyen.

Desai confirmed he and Langston were withdrawing their disqualification appeal and the disqualification from the ESB stands.

“There are a lot of great people on this campus and they believed in our mission,” Desai said. “I hope that things we fought for continue to be a part of student government and I hope that even if it’s not us that can achieve our goals that someone else will achieve them, and I hope students who supported us will still have opportunities on campus.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: ESB disqualifies Desai campaign

Student Government presidential candidates Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Update 11:40 p.m.: The Yaman Desai and Whitney Langston campaign withdrew from the Student Government election after emails obtained by The Daily Texan revealed Desai encouraged the agent to lie to Gardner's webmaster.

Update at 6:50 p.m.: Desai said he questions whether his campaign has misrepresented itself and whether the agent was actually a part of the campaign at the time she misrepresented herself. However, Election Supervisory Board chair Eric Nimmer maintains the campaign is still disqualified until the Judicial Court determines whether they are allowed back into the election.

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Presidential candidate Yaman Desai and running mate Whitney Langston face disqualification by the Election Supervisory Board for allegedly seeking information about another campaign and misrepresenting themselves as an official University entity. The Judicial court placed an injunction on their disqualification and will hear their case at 9 p.m.

Desai and Langston filed complaints against candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara over the weekend for failing to report campaign purchases at fair market value and failing to report design and consulting fees for their website. Gardner and Guevara filed a counterclaim of misrepresentation that resulted in a subsequent investigation by the Election Supervisory Board.

In the investigation, the Election Supervisory Board found that an agent of Desai and Langston portrayed herself as an official University entity by creating a false title on a social media site and subsequently emailing the third party web consultant for Gardner and Guevara seeking information.

The opinion of the Board was released in a written statement to The Daily Texan by Election Supervisory Board chair Eric Nimmer. The document stated that Desai and Langston have been disqualified for three reasons: for having a campaign agent claiming to be an agent employed by the University and identifying herself as a “Election Supervisory Representative,” for previous attempts to contact the third party web designer resulting in the invention of a fraudulent title and for offering little or no objection to the authenticity of the evidence during their hearing with the Board.

An “agent” refers to any candidate appointed worker who is authorized to speak and act on behalf of the candidate, according to the Student Government Election Code.

“While the above holds true the board has no choice to consider the previously stated behavior as a misdeed by the entire campaign and not the individual,” the statement read. “Therefore what has been interpreted by the board as a fraudulent action applies to entire party as a single entity.”

Desai said he and Langston have appealed the decision and will stand before the Election Supervisory Board later tonight. Desai said they are still plan on appearing at the Candidates Debate tonight hosted by The Daily Texan in the Student Activity Center at 7 p.m.

Alexander Jones, an agent for Gardner and Guevara’s campaign, declined to comment on the disqualification.

Sunday, Gardner and Guevara were found to be in violation of the code for failing to accurately price their purchases and fined ten percent of their total campaign spending limit.

Biology Senior Kellen Burke donates blood on campus Wednesday afternoon as part of a blood drive hosted by Student Government and administered by The American Red Cross. The drive, held Tuesday and Wednesday for victims of deadly spring storms, collected 46 unites of blood, just 4 fewer than the goal of 50 units.

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

The recent Student Government blood drive could provide relief for more than 130 victims of this spring’s deadly storms.

Tornadoes ravaged Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April and Joplin, Mo., in May, leaving dozens dead and many more injured. After the disasters, University-wide representative Yaman Desai authored a resolution in honor of the victims.

“We just wanted to give support and give them help whatever way we could, and we found out this was the best way we could do it,” Desai said, regarding the blood drive which took place Tuesday and Wednesday.

He said it was a great way for students to help save lives and only takes about 40 minutes of their day. Nursing representative Jaclyn Rosenthal contacted the American Red Cross because she wanted the donations to have a national impact.

“Blood drives are a great way to help disaster-relief efforts because the national blood bank needs to be quickly replenished,” she said.

The Red Cross provided the trailer and supplies needed for the drive with no cost to SG.

Jessica Amaro, donor recruitment representative of the American Red Cross, said contrary to misconceptions, anyone can donate as long as they are at least 17 years of age and in reasonably good health. Donors are tested by the Red Cross to determine their health status and avoid collecting blood that might contain harmful pathogens. Eligible donors’ blood goes to a Red Cross laboratory in Dallas the morning after donation and is analyzed to determine whether the relief organization can use the blood.

Amaro said the blood collected here usually stays in Texas, but it can be shipped to other states in periods of critical shortage. She said although the disasters happened weeks ago, many victims suffered traumas that require multiple surgeries. The blood from the SG drive will go to hospitals in Missouri, Alabama and Texas.

“When people think ‘blood’ they think immediate, but it’s not always immediate,” Amaro said.

She said 10 to 15 percent of blood comes from high school students and colleges, which means a decrease during summer months. Amaro said the Red Cross and SG hoped to collect 50 units during this drive, but she was satisfied with the 46 units it brought in. Each unit of blood can save about three lives.

History senior Eric Ramos said he has donated since he was 17 because his blood type is O negative. People with O negative are universal donors, so their blood will be used in cases where it is impossible to determine the blood type of an injured person.

“Whenever there’s a blood drive on campus I stop by and donate,” Ramos said. “It’s just my way of helping out.”
He said he donates about six to seven times a year but still hasn’t gotten used to needles, and blood banks usually try to contact him because of his uncommon blood type.

Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Student Government hosts blood drive

About 25 volunteers chatted away their cell phone minutes Thursday evening as part of Hook the Vote’s early vote phone bank.

With a list of 14,000 contacts, the volunteers called registered UT student voters who had not voted yet. Their focus was on heavily student-based precincts — including the on-campus, West Campus and Riverside precincts.

Hook the Vote is a bipartisan coalition made up of Student Government, the Student Events Center, University Democrats, UT Votes, the Black Student Alliance, College Republicans and the University Leadership Initiative. The five-member leadership committee wanted to increase student turnout before early voting ends today, said Hook the Vote director Jimmy Talarico.

University Democrats President Michael Hurta said the Travis County Democratic Party generated the list of potential student voters. The list states the voter’s name, age, gender, address and where their Election Day poll is located. He said the information was gathered from past elections and registration from Hook the Vote efforts.

“I don’t think there’s an easier legal way to get their information,” Hurta said.

Government junior Yaman Desai said student voter turnout is lower than it was in 2008 because it’s not a presidential election, which usually comes with more excitement.

“There’s not a lot of excitement that there generally is for a presidential election, so lots of students don’t know or haven’t been following the midterm elections as closely,” Desai said. “State races don’t get as much attention as the national races but these races often matter more than the national races."

Desai said even if Hook the Vote reached a limited amount of people, they reached out to students who would not have voted otherwise. He said what the volunteers at the phone bank did was great.

“Once students volunteer, I think they will realize that they’re not asking people for money or asking them to do anything difficult, just asking them to go out and vote,” Desai said. “In our democracy, that’s the greatest thing a person can do.”

Government senior Derin Kiykioglu said it is important for students to vote so they can give feedback to their elected officials. Kiykioglu said she had great responses from people she called. She said one girl was about to look up the information online so she was glad Kiykioglu called.

“The more we have people vote, the more representation we have of students,” Kiykioglu said. “Students are usually a very largely underrepresented population in the citywide elections. Just to have that student voice and make sure students are heard is very important in order to empower our generation.”
 

Student Government passed a set of broad reforms to its internal structure and external operations in its first meeting of the semester Tuesday.

An SG Internal Reform Task Force began work over the summer to create a series of changes to SG’s constitution and bylaws, including the rejuvenation of the judicial branch, added positions to the assembly and increased efficiency in the agency system, the primary structure for outreach and student programming. “

"Hopefully, this will start an ongoing process of reform and create more ways for students to interact with SG and make SG more accountable,”" said the task force’s chair, Cecilia Lopez, a higher education administration graduate student. “"I didn’t think we were going to be able to accomplish as much as we did in the time that we had."”

"The task force’s recommendations helped fulfill campaign promises that SG President Scott Parks made during the February 2010 campaign season," Student Government President Scott Parks said. "“Something that we campaigned on a lot was our agency structure, and this provides a much more efficient and sustainable organizational structure for our agencies,” he said. “We'’ll be able to program better for students and get better turnout at programs students are interested in attending."”

"The new agency organization will allow for more extensive recruitment of students who are not already involved with SG," Lopez said. "“When students ask how to get involved, [SG members] will have more to say than just to come to a meeting,"” she said.

The reform also creates several positions within the assembly, including the creation of a clerk position to take minutes and manage meetings’ logistics and an assembly chair who will run the meetings, a role the vice president currently fulfills. The new constitution also includes the creation of two first-year seats, which freshmen, first-year transfer students and first-year graduate students would be eligible to run for each fall.

Because SG approved the reform, it has to go before a campus-wide vote. SG will hold a special election to approve the reform on Feb. 9 and 10 so that students can elect the 2010-11 executive and assembly members under the new SG constitution during the March general election.

During the meeting, SG also appointed a new University-wide representative to fill the seat that business senior Alex Greenberg vacated at the end of the fall semester. Government junior Yaman Desai will take the seat. Desai is involved with University Democrats and was part of the Internal Reform Task Force.