AS Presidential Debates: Shit Gets Real

After attending a highly entertaining and informative debate between the candidates for President of the Associated Students of Western Washington University, I can say that I will gladly and enthusiastically vote in the elections next week.

That might seem a little weird. But the thing is, last year I didn't have the first clue about any of the candidates running for either President or VP. Except the incumbents, maybe. But I felt that voting on an incumbent, knowing nothing about their goals for the coming year, their accomplishments in the previous year, or even their eligibility compared to a challenger, would be an irresponsible waste of my vote. So I didn't vote.

This year will be different.

The debate was lively and extremely well-moderated. Everything ran quite smoothly; if two soft chimes don't count, nobody went into overtime with long-winded exhortations. The moderators' questions were direct (literally), pointed, and very often loaded. It was great to hear such critical questions being tossed at the candidates ("Why did you pick such a vague mission statement?" "Why do you keep taking sole credit for what was voted on by a seven-person panel?") rather than the typical softball cotton-candy "interviews" that we see in the media. That a student-run debate with student candidates had harder questions than a typical CNN interview says a lot about the general suckitude of cable news. But I digress.

That was the general framework of the debate. Now, I offer my humble(?) opinion of the four candidates, from left to right on the stage.

Ben Brockman: If anyone had a sharper divide between message and tone tonight, I must've not been paying attention. As the debate wore on, Ben started eliciting certain emotions among the people around me... most notably exasperation. This is not to say his message wasn't clear and to the point: we need to work on collaboration, accountability, and efficiency when it comes to student and academic affairs. The problem was not in the message, but rather in his delivery. I'm not sure if it's his natural speaking cadence, but Ben affected a sort of pompousness or arrogance which clearly turned off a lot of people, even if his ideas were quite sound and his VP-BizOps record a clear demonstration of his effective policy-making. For such a strong vision it's rather jarring to place him at 3rd or even 4th place in the eligibility rankings, but there he goes. Because really, if there's one thing that destroys the effectiveness of student leadership, it's an air of superiority, regardless of its truth value. Sorry, Ben, but you'll have to at least pretend to be more humble about things.

Anna Ellermeier: I'd hate to call her the "Obama candidate," but Anna's message was very hope-and-change-esque. Not to say that this was a bad thing, because it certainly charged the crowd—she consistently got cheers mixed in with heavy applause toward the end of the debate. Her record isn't shabby either. Indeed, she stands a very good chance of winning this election, judging by the audience response. But hope and change does not translate into policy, and we need results more than "empowerment" or other intangibles. That's where I thought Anna fell flat; other than talk of encouraging diversity, I didn't think Anna gave any clear and specific examples of a policy she would work to implement. She might have popular appeal, but too often that populism is a house of cards.

Byron Starkey: Byron goes straight to the middle of the road, which means 3rd place in my opinion, given the popular appeal of Anna and the succinct policy goals of Jamin. While Byron did offer up some nice goals for his potential tenure as AS President, he used the same hand motion far too much; an indicator of either nervousness or mediocre public speaking skills. Either one is a black mark for a Presidential candidate. He also lacked the charisma of the other candidates, and generally seemed to barely hold his own.

Jamin Agosti: My vote goes to Jamin, though he might very well not win the election (again, extremely close between him and Anna, in my opinion). He did not share Ben's perceived superiority complex or Anna's intangible policy goals. He did present a clear and (to me, at least) compelling roadmap for where he wants the AS to go for the coming year, and that's a good start. Plus he's the current VP-StudentLife, which puts him closest to the President's "true" role—that is, representing the fifteen-thousand-member student body when the debate moves to the WWU administration, state legislature, or wherever.

So my pundit's final ranking is: 1) Anna* 2) Jamin 3) Byron 4) Ben. *Note that this is probably how the general election will go, even though it may be a close race between Jamin and Anna, and I prefer Jamin.