Student Government Elections: Unpacking the Rhetoric

With presidential primaries scheduled for Valentine’s Day, student government’s election season is in full swing. Along with it, of course, has come a full-size helping of campaign rhetoric — everything from fresh buzzwords (“individual values,” “innovative outlook”) to well-worn cliches (“fiscal responsibility,” “Bobcat spirit”).

Given how important this election is to the student body — the ASMSU president and vice-president are students’ primary communications channel to the MSU administration and manage $1.8 million in fee-funded programs — student voters must dig deeper, looking beyond the spin to to understand the truth of candidates’ abilities and visions.

That is particularly true given the breadth of this year’s candidate field, easily the most diverse in student government’s recent history. Two presidential candidates, Kiah Abbey and John Stiles, have extensive leadership experience on campus — Abbey as the president of Sustained Dialogue and NECO, the high-profile campus sustainability group, and Stiles as the Campus Entertainment director responsible for organizing the $140,000 3Oh!3 concert in December. A third, Jesse Cooke, was elected homecoming king last fall, and the fourth, Casey Mulkey, touts military leadership experience.

The purpose of the Exponent’s elections coverage in this and coming editions is to help our readers separate meaning from rhetoric amidst that crowded field. The figure at right, based on the candidates’ formal campaign statements (appearing in the elections advertisement on page 11), is a first measure there, comparing the claims of various campaigns. While it certainly does not convey the whole story, we hope it provide a starting point for voters to question the candidates themselves.

Leaving it to our news section to explore the details of candidates’ qualifications and positions further, we’ve outlined what we see as some of the campaigns’ common themes below:

Experience with MSU — Various candidates say some variation of ‘We understand MSU.’’ But what parts of our multi-faceted campus do they understand? Where are they ignorant — and, more importantly, what will they do to remedy that?

Representing Student Voices — Whose voices, exactly, do candidates plan to represent, given the physical impossibility of talking to all 14,000 students on campus? Their existing circles of friends? Students concerned enough about a particular issue to seek them out? Everyone who complains to their roommate about a frustrating professor? Given the ASMSU President’s all-too-finite time and energy, a balance must be struck between reaching out to listen and taking action on what they hear. How do our prospective leaders plan to approach that challenge?

Bobcat Spirit — A part of every nearly every campaign platform for time immemorial. How, specifically would the candidates define Bobcat spirit, though? What exactly can the student body president do to boost it? Several candidates talk about building community in the same breath. The same is worth asking there.

Amidst a crowded field this year, candidates could do much to set themselves apart by providing answers to these questions.