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History of presidential platforms reveals SA discontent

Infographic by Sydney Garrett

By Savannah Kuchar     2/26/19 10:02pm

Freddy Cavallaro’s call to restructure the Student Association Senate may be the first such campaign in current students’ memories, but it is at home in Rice’s history. Between 2003 and 2014, at least six campaigns aimed to achieve goals including shifting power to residential colleges and increasing voter turnout in SA elections, but none won elections.

In 2003, the Rice Thresher reported two co-presidential candidates ran to prove the existence of student apathy toward the SA. They were Hubert Gorniak, a Martel College sophomore, and Scott Selinger, a Will Rice College sophomore. 

“The SA [Senate] is the most worthless club on campus,” Selinger said at the time.  “No one cares about you, no one respects you, no one listens to you.”

A 2006 campaign run by Andrew Chifari called for getting rid of the SA and returning power to the residential colleges and their governments.  

Chifari ran again in 2007 with Martel senior Gillian Serby, this time running a more pro-SA campaign. In his second campaign, Chifari had a completely different disposition towards the SA and the role of its president, but ultimately still lost the election.

“I’ve learned from last year’s campaign to take this more seriously,” Chifari told the Thresher in 2007. “I hurt a lot of people last year, and I apologize for that.”

Two years later, Mithun Mansinghani, a Martel senior, and Zach Marshall, a Martel junior, ran as co-presidential candidates with a similar goal to Chifari in 2006: giving power back to the residential college governments.

“If we can bring some things ill-managed by the SA back to the students, it will lead to a stronger Rice in the future,” Marshall said at the time.

In 2009, Alexander Crompton, a senior from Martel, said he ran in order to attract more student attention to the SA Senate and the election. That year, there were 1,610 voters, which was more than half the undergraduate student body at the time and the highest voter turnout in a decade.

“Martel has a long tradition of sending joke candidates to the SA to draw awareness to important issues on campus,” Crompton told the Thresher in 2009.

Two Martel seniors, Erik Tanner and Daniel Hays, ran for SA President in 2011 in an effort to revive Rice culture and raise awareness of what they called an essentially ineffective SA.

Meeting minutes from Martel’s Feb. 12, 2014 parliament advertised that year’s candidate, Denis Leahy, a senior from Martel. Under the statement “Vote for Denis Leahy! Write him in!” was the call to “DISSOLVE THE SA” because “IT’S POINTLESS.”

This year, Cavallaro first decided to run a campaign with the platform of dismantling the SA, but changed to focus on decentralizing power from the SA through constitutional reform after current SA President Ariana Engles decided not to run.

“The largest problem with the SA [Senate is that] I don’t think it’s representative of the student body,” Cavallaro, a Will Rice College junior, said. “I aim to divert as much power as possible from the [SA] Senate and give it back to the people.”

Several other less traditional campaigns have focused less on the student government and more on entertainment.

Jones College junior Ian MacCormack found himself at the center of a write-in campaign in 2005. MacCormack, who was studying abroad at the time, did not know his friends started the campaign until a day before the election ended.

The SA president at the time, Derrick Matthews, told the Thresher in 2005 he believed MacCormack’s joke campaign was a reason for the higher voter turnout that year. 

“I know it’s tempting to say that the Ian MacCormack write-in campaign was a mockery of the SA,” Matthews said at the time. “Maybe it was, but the bottom line is that it got more people to vote than I remember in my four years at Rice.”

Andrew Lo (Martel ‘13) and Justin Montes (Martel ‘14) ran in 2013 on “a platform of 2x4s, 2x6s, 4x4s, and one sheet of ½ inch thick plywood.”

They had two campaign mottos: “Change: We’ll get around to it tomorrow” or “Kid tested; Mother approved.”

Last year, current director of elections Morgan Gillis ran as a “joke” candidate with a platform that included free Chegg and changing the Rice mascot from Owls to the minions from Despicable Me.

Gillis said, however, that his campaign ended up drawing attention to widespread student apathy toward the SA.

“[The fact that] my ideas have drawn people who have never even thought about the SA before into caring about the election [and] posting about the election means that I’m something exciting, something new,” Gillis said last year at a self-organized town hall. 

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