Higher Ed Decisions & The Student Vote

After months of bombardment by voter registration workers and scathing campaign propaganda, a voter guide may be one of the last things readers hope to find in the Exponent.  While the paper has not focused on political coverage the past several years, we cannot ignore this election’s strong presence on campus. Rather than printing information on candidates that has been produced by other news sources and is easily accessible, we chose to publish candidates’ answers to questions that pertain to higher education, an institution which affects all of us. While it seems this guide only offers voters one piece of the much greater puzzle of Montana’s elections, students should take into consideration the fact that candidates’ stances on education directly affect our futures and experiences within the Montana University System, which is comprised of 16 public universities and colleges.  By asking candidates to respond to questions specific to MSU, we cover aspects of the election that have not been at the forefront of Montana’s political discussion. While students traditionally vote in low numbers, the 9,890 resident undergraduate and graduate students at MSU represent almost 1.5 percent of Montana’s registered voters. According to realclearpolitics.com, Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg are separated by a margin of 0.3 percent in the Montana senate race. With a contest so close, MSU student voters could determine the outcome. Often, local legislative races are overshadowed by the high-profile senate, house and gubernatorial contests, but in reality, the state legislature has significant influence on higher education. While the Board of Regents oversees the Montana University System, the legislature determines the lump sum of money given to the university system. Legislators are placed in decision-making positions, and trade-offs must inevitably be made in order to balance the budget. By understanding candidates’ policies and goals for higher education, students can make informed decisions about the candidates they feel will best represent the 47,500 students in the Montana University System — and they can help direct the legislature’s attention toward higher education. In an effort to present voters with fully-balanced information, we gave candidates three weeks to respond, but even after multiple attempts to contact them, several candidates did not submit their answers by press time. As responses come in, we will publish them online at msuexponent.com/election2012. Candidates were asked to keep their responses as concise as possible. We particularly regret that we were unable to obtain responses from more Republican candidates, but we encourage voters to research candidates on their own. We hope this guide serves you well on Election Day.