BY: THE SGA DEBATE COMMITTEE
The 2015 election cycle is characterized by a healthy synthesis of the political game Centre is accustomed to, as well as departure from the expected norms.
For the first time in recent institutional memory, candidate for SGA President Gray Whitsett and candidate for SGA Speaker of the House Ross Larson chose to run together, as a ticket. They launched their campaigns in the same video, they share a common Facebook page, and a common Cowan banner. In addition, Whitsett and Larson intentionally designed complementary platforms to coordinate their messages in their respective races with the aim of claiming victory in both races. This stands in contrast to the other candidate for SGA President, Hunt VanderToll, and the two other candidates for SGA Speaker of the House, Bryce Rowland and Henry Nguyen, who all made the decisions to run independently of each of the other candidates.
Despite Whitsett and Larson’s positioning of themselves as a ticket, elections do not actually work as a ticket. That is, students can freely choose to vote for whatever candidate they wish to for each election, which means hypothetically one member of the ticket could win while the other loses. This possibility resulted in criticism for the ticket model. “ … The ramifications of a split ticket may not make for the best exec team. Going in, everyone needs to be on the exact same plane and willing to work with each other instead of actively campaigning with, or against, each other,” VanderToll said, who went on to clarify that steps had been taken to ensure that there was a distance maintained between his campaign and Rowland’s.
Yet Larson and Whitsett adamantly defended their campaign model. “If we both win, we’re going to be that much more effective … The ticket is meant to enhance the job that we could do, not allow us to do a good job.” Larson, on the other hand, emphasized the importance the ticket model has in terms of the way Centre students view elections, saying that “I think we’ve changed the way people run SGA campaigns … [our campaign] will make people see the effectiveness of the ticket model.”
This isn’t the only notable deviation from the norm in this campaign cycle, however. Rowland is currently studying abroad in the Centre-in-London program, and therefore won’t have a physical presence on campus for the duration of the campaign. When asked about the geographic distance, Rowland instead made clear that he didn’t consider it to be a disadvantage. Rowland is utilizing social media in disseminating campaign information and has enlisted the assistance of sophomore Alex Chumbley, who will be Rowland’s proxy during Wednesday night’s SGA debate. Rowland says this has allowed to “remind students that I am a real person with a real message…it all just comes down to being creative and finding news and innovative ways to promote a plan that I really believe in.”
With all of these atypical elements thrown into one election season, it’s perfectly understandable why the SGA debate will be so crucial for everyone involved. When asked, Whitsett expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the tone previous debates had taken on. “I think this has been a problem in the past. I’d like for what we say to have substance and it be concrete enough for the student body to hold us accountable. No one goes in trying to play politics, but ideas are expressed and they get lost as ideas when the reality of the job and the college hit you,” Whitsett said. VanderToll also reinforced a desire for authentic conversation saying that “last year I had this whole script set out and ended up scratching it out … [I want to make sure] the student body understands what message I’m conveying.”
When asked to sum up what their campaigns really sought to emphasize, the uniqueness of each candidate continued to shine through.
“I understand that SGA needs changes, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater … I’ve been able to see the issues first-hand [for the last three years] and what made SGA not as effective as it could have been,” VanderToll said.
Whitsett and Larson on the other hand, were adamant that the ticket format and their styles put them in a unique position if both elected. To clarify, Whitsett said that “I’m running for President and [Larson] is running for Speaker of the House. We’re not running for each other, we’re running with each other.” Larson, on the other hand, contended that “[Whitsett] and I have a history of tackling big issues — and doing it together. We’re running to serve the student body and the college and that will be our focus — together.”
The SGA debate, featuring the aforementioned candidates as well as the candidates running for President of the Student Senate and President of the Student Activities Council. The debate will be moderated by The Cento’s Editor-in-Chief Sarah Cornett and will take place this Wed. at 8 p.m. in Newlin Hall.