Within the confines it has created for itself, Student Government works. It’s very effective at upgrading library and facility hours as the student body sees fit, and it frequently attempts to make itself more effective by tinkering with its organizational structure. But because of those same confines, Student Government doesn’t work efficiently, and it doesn’t work for everyone. Don’t expect that to change if Braydon Jones and Kimia Dargahi win next week's runoff election for Student Government president and vice president, respectively.
According to SG’s website, the organization has passed just 25 bills, not including resolutions, over the past two years, the vast majority of which address internal issues that hold little relevance to anyone outside the assembly. It touts improper fractions like 24/5 at the PCL and 24/7 at the FAC as major accomplishments, but ignores calls to reform other elements of campus life, like on-campus dining or transportation from Riverside. And worst of all, it considers a voter turnout rate below 20 percent as a signal of student apathy rather than a reflection of an out-of-touch political system. For the average student living east of Nueces or south of MLK, it hardly matters what elected candidates say to take their oath of office (last year’s AB 9) or how the Co-op distributes the money from its ornament sales (this year’s AB 5).
The problem with Student Government isn’t that the students don’t care enough. It’s that, for a silent majority of UT students, SG hardly even exists.
Through their “Let’s Talk Texas” campaign, Jones and Dargahi have done an admirable job trying to prove that SG cares about that silent majority. But as The Daily Texan noted in its endorsement of their ticket, their platforms look a lot like those of previous administrations.
Because of Jones’ extensive behind-the-scenes experience, I have no doubt that he and Dargahi will turn in a solid performance conducting business as usual within the assembly. The problem is that for SG to truly speak on behalf of the students it ostensibly represents, it needs to do anything but. With an insider like Jones at the helm, that’s unlikely to happen. It’s very difficult to reform a system from within that system.
That’s what makes this year’s Texas Travesty ticket so compelling. Instead of mocking SG’s infrequent but well-intentioned efforts to improve campus life, as previous joke campaigns have done, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu are taking aim at the system’s most glaring shortcomings.
Their platforms perfectly satirize the art of clichéd humility and subtle self-aggrandizement that can turn any politician into a hollow facsimile of a public servant. Their videos expose the inanity of West Mall canvassing and student organization endorsement-mongering, the latter of which led Jones and Dargahi to reveal some embarrassingly inconsistent positions regarding campus carry and domestic partnership benefits.
And they wrap their entire campaign around the idea that political spectacle should not supersede the promotion of cogent and inclusive platforms. Embedded within their ridiculous schtick is a genuine — and increasingly necessary — call for a student government that actually matters to its constituents.
But the duo’s more outrageous antics are more than just an entertaining sideshow. They serve as the centerpiece of Rotnofsky-Mandalapu’s greatest strength. A campaign creative enough to deliver such incisive satire would also be creative enough to consider unique solutions to any problems that arise in the middle of their term. A great executive needs the skills to address unplanned circumstances and unknown unknowns. Through their improvisational routines, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu display those skills better than anyone else on the ballot.
Equally importantly, they lace their comedy with undertones of constructive idealism, rather than destructive cynicism. It isn't that Rotnofsky and Mandalapu want to turn Student Government into a joke. They just recognize that, as far as most of the student body is concerned, Student Government is already perceived as a joke. Through their off-the-wall unorthodoxy, Rotnofsky-Mandalapu convey an impactful message to a subset of the population that otherwise wouldn’t have any reason to listen. That's why this election is going to a runoff.
During Monday’s candidate debate, Mandalapu described SG’s greatest challenge as “being relevant to 90 percent of the school.” Even at their most ludicrous, he and his running mate are the candidates best equipped to tackle that challenge, metaphorically or — in the case of the Jefferson Davis statue — physically. It'll be quite a travesty if UT doesn't give them the chance.
Shenhar is a Plan II, government and economics sophomore from Westport, Connecticut. Follow Shenhar on Twitter @jshenhar.