AS Elections 2015: What Are the Chances

This post is a follow-up to the AS Elections series: Part 1 and Part 2

I have one more post left in this series, about the aftermath of the 2015 AS General Elections and what could be done in the future. Then, as befitting my position as someone who's not even enrolled at WWU any more, I'll let the matter rest.

This post, though, is not the last. I reached out to people I knew, who had run for office in the AS or worked in the AS but are no longer a part of it. Katrina Haffner (of La Commedia Politica) and Dan Hagen stepped up. Here are their responses, lightly edited for readability and length. Any highlights are mine.

1. You said you ran for election twice and lost. What do you think contributed to that? The other candidates' messaging? Your own knowledge of the election process?

First and foremost, elections are popularity contests. When it’s mainly people from the AS and friends of candidates voting, it becomes quite apparent. When writing my candidate statements, I was sure to list my experiences that would show why I was qualified for the position (relating to the position itself as well as leadership), a couple of points from my platform, and an emotional appeal, including my slogan – pretty much in that order. As the majority of the voters who weren’t already biased towards my opponents probably wouldn’t read up on us, I knew that I would have to rely on a kick-ass candidate statement. For both elections, I had strangers pass me and tell me that they voted for me – it gave me reason to believe that I had appeal to people who weren’t connected to my opponents. [...]

My main opponents were phenomenal with physical campaigning (posters and standing with their signs), and while I took every hour I had free to reach out to people, my busy class schedule prevented me from going out more often. I’m not sure how much of an impact that had on the elections, but I do believe in creating a sense of familiarity.

As last year’s election was highly influenced by people from the Ethnic Student Center, the voter turnout seemed to be vastly different from the year before, with fewer voters as well. I had accurately predicted all who would win during the 2012-2013 election, but I failed to correctly do so for the next year’s.

Becoming familiar with the AS Elections rules is fairly simple as you can read the AS Election Code, which I did a few times, as well as talk with the AS Elections Coordinator along with a staff member who knows it well.

I think the largest contributing factors to my defeats would be misinformation about the requirements for the position and the poorly organized campaign requirements.

When I was campaigning for the position of ASVP for Activities less than ten percent of the people I campaigned to actually knew what the job responsibilities were and sadly that is including staff members of the AS. Absolutely nobody knew that the ASVP for Activities chaired Interclub Council, and very few people knew the ASVPfA chairs Activities Council. Interestingly, my first campaign there were also little to no resources dedicated to providing any candidates but the presidentials an opportunity to speak before an audience. A large debate event was hosted for the position of President, despite the fact that the board makes decisions as a group and the President is but one, comparatively small voice in that group.

The structure of the election was done in such a way that information is presented to candidates all in one lump meeting the weekend before you are actually allowed to campaign. The candidate receives a several page packet with rules and stipulations and then told if they violate any aspect of that large dense packet of information their entire campaign could be meaningless. Granted the reviewing committee is fairly lenient, however in my opinion they would need to be or they could very likely accidentally DQ their entire board.

If a candidate did not have a previous knowledge of the campaign timeline before the meeting they're at a severe disadvantage because candidates are allowed to post their materials on campus less than two days after that meeting. Interestingly, they're not allowed to design or print materials until after the meeting, which nobody follows because then you could not logistically get any campaign materials designed or printed before all of the best advertising spots are taken by more prepared candidates.

2. What was your impression of the AS as an outsider? As an insider? How do you see the AS's attitude towards the general student body?

While working for the AS my first couple of years at western, I learned it believes it exists to create a safe and inclusive environment for western students. However, after getting a non-AS job and leaving the AS clubhouse I noticed that I almost never heard about the AS except the events they were hosting (which are generally the same 10 topics looked at from different perspectives). I did notice an improvement in regards to transparency/voice on campus when the communications position was created (but it wasn't worth the ~14k in salary and whatever the operating budget is I'm sure.
Before my first time running in the AS Elections, the only real experience I had with them was through AS Clubs since I was a president of a couple. Despite my involvement with ResLife, it seemed that people from the AS didn’t consider me “qualified” enough for VP for Student Life. My isolation was further reinforced when leaders within the AS endorsed an opponent of mine, without listing any actual qualifications.

In the year following my first election, I joined Activities Council and became involved with KUGS. Because I was not an AS employee, I still did not feel particularly “in” with the AS. My experiences with running helped me become more familiar with the student government.

According to an inside source, KUGS does not have the camaraderie with the AS as other programs within it do. Last year’s particular election brought up a theme of possible internal tensions within the AS. Even though the Ethnic Student Center is in the AS, many people had to vote between “this person in the AS or this person in the ESC.” I can’t say whether or not there was real dramatic tension between ESC and non-ESC candidates, but it may have been a cry from people in the ESC who feel that the AS does not properly represent people of color.

Despite my gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, I chose to not showcase those aspects of myself for campaigning. Even though I am half-Filipino, it did not seem to matter in the race, as I was not affiliated with the ESC.

During both vice presidential debates I saw a few people from the AS scoff or roll their eyes at things I had to say. These were mainly things that people from the student body had brought up to me. Even though it was only a few people from the AS who did so, the student body is keen on picking up negative responses from the AS about their real concerns.
3. In your experience with the AS, what were a few key programs or initiatives that were directed at the general student body? Were there any programs / initiatives you deemed to be mostly insular, and was that a good or a bad thing?

Of the initiatives and referenda that were put on the ballot while I have been a student, only the Higher One initiative introduced by Bill Campbell seemed to be about representing the students and bringing attention to their concerns, in my opinion. That doesn’t make all of the other bills introduced wrong by any means. Having an initiative on the ballot brings great awareness to political and social issues, as shown by the divestment campaign. I have also tried to get a couple of initiatives on the ballot, to no avail.

I don’t think the problem here is that these bills don’t represent the student body, but that it is a pain in the tush to even get an initiative onto the ballot. You need 5% of the student body to sign a petition so that it can get onto the ballot. How they came up with that number, I don’t know. Why it’s even a thing, I don’t know. I really want to know why 5% of all numbers – do they think that it accurately represents the student body? Why is it that referenda don’t need a petition? Is it because they’re sponsored by a member of the AS Board of Directors? (Duh.)

In order to even get a petition from the AS to even have hopes of getting an initiative onto the ballot, it needs to be approved by the AS Board of Directors. There is one meeting sponsors have to attend to give the BOD more information, as well as a second where you can give them more info, then they vote on it. Why isn’t this enough to get it onto the ballot?

If this process wasn’t so strenuous, I wouldn’t doubt that more issues from the student body would be brought forward. In the actual elections, I feel that the focus is mainly on the candidates. The AS can reimburse only so much money spent on campaigning. If there are a lot of candidates who run, reimbursements for the candidates are prioritized over reimbursements for the initiative sponsors. During meetings, facilitators have to remember to talk to the initiative sponsors as well, instead of solely referring to the group as “candidates.”

When I ran my opposition campaign for the no smoking on campus referendum, there was so little information on how I was supposed to do so. If I correctly recall, I was the first person to ever run an opposition campaign in AS Election history.
In my opinion the programs that were more insular were so because it strengthens the nature of the program/initiative. For example, the women's centers programming (one could just as easily say ESC), while inclusive to all identities, has a more insular programming style, but that serves to strengthen the content of their programming by allowing the participants to find students of similar identities.

I worked for AS Productions for a time, which is responsible for a lot of event programming on Westerns campus and while most if not all of the events put on by ASP were targeted at Western students of all backgrounds, their events generally only drew undergraduate white students who lived on campus. Also the larger concerts used to be more varied and have lower ticket prices more recently the performers have all catered to the white-seattle-middle-class-urban-hipster music scene and tickets aren't always affordable for a majority of students on campus.

4. What is your impression of the direction the AS has taken over the past few years? Have they improved, and in what ways? Have they declined, and in what ways?

I feel that they've declined in that they are no longer using the finances allotted to them as responsibly or effectively as they could be. When we were on activities council I feel like a lot of times we just gave the people money because we had it and we could help them despite indications they had a poorly planned event. A lot of times we also neglected to consider the focus of the money being allocated. For instance in two consecutive years the design club received substantial funding for two plane trips to conferences. While other clubs spent considerably less by using the WWU vans, or planning car pool trips.
I feel that my talk of transparency during both elections I ran in has outlived my candidacy. During my first run, I got the vibe that some people from the AS didn’t like how it was a priority on my platform – that I was just another student running who didn’t actually know how the AS worked. Even if that was true (and I still, to this day, doubt that), it was a point that resonated with the students I talked with. During my second run, transparency became another theme apparent, as it was mentioned by Chelsea Ghant in her candidate statement (in addition to mine) and was a question asked to the candidates in the presidential debate.

I think that the AS Review and The Western Front are doing a more splendid job in covering the elections. If Western bloggers like us continue to create a dialogue, it could get more students talking, as well as get the AS to pay more attention to what the student body is thinking. I am pretty sure the majority of the AS is well-intentioned and wants to hear the concerns of the students, they just don’t know how.

How the AS is structured may inhibit actual change from happening. They need fresh faces. I, for one, love the idea of a student senate, as it has worked in the favor of transparency in the past, and provides another avenue for students to become involved. However, it has been out-of-commission and in need of reform for the past few years.

The current AS BOD is not a typical one, and for that, we should be glad. I’m not saying candidates from the ESC should win every year, but having board members you don’t usually see shakes things up. If people from different groups on campus, such as ResLife, libertarians, Fairhaven, etc., work with their friends and acquaintances to get elected, we could see some actual diversity within the AS.

I am disappointed in this year’s election. The abysmal lack in candidates to vote for is embarrassing. Not only the number of people who decided to run, but the lack of real stances on what they are running for. A lot of the unopposed candidates rely on meaningless rhetoric, which I am not a fan of. Because of the lack of competition, it took forever for physical campaign materials to appear. Unless there was an external force (widespread printing problems, for example) that resulted in candidates being unable to put up posters until late in the game, I am unimpressed with the sheer laziness. Sure, you may be the only person the students can vote for that particular position, but it doesn’t mean you outright deserve it. I really can’t say in which direction the AS is headed. If they have any sense, they’ll have me help with the student senate reform, but until then, we’re being left behind in the dust.
My final recommendations / condemnations are forthcoming. If you have any comments or questions or additional testimony, please share!