ASUN elections offer opportunities for change

3/6/2009 - By: Jon Fortenbury

This year’s ASUN (Associated Students of the University of Nevada, Reno) elections contain more than meets the eye. With 54 students running for office this year compared to 35 that ran last year, new trends, new circumstances and fiercer competition lie behind one of the most crucial student elections ever at the University of Nevada, Reno.

With fundamentally different views between the presidential candidates, the votes casted on March 11-12 for these elected student offices may determine the entire direction of the student government.

The ASUN presidential race is between current ASUN President Eli Reilly and current ASUN Vice President Michael Cabrera. The ASUN vice-presidential race is between current ASUN Club Commissioner Maritza Perez, running with Reilly, and current College of Liberal Arts Senator Charlie Jose, running with Cabrera.

The Reilly-Perez campaign

If Reilly is elected, he will be the second person in University of Nevada, Reno history to have held the presidential position for two years. Jeff Champagne, ASUN president from 2005-2007, was the first. Since 1898, Reilly is only the second to even run a second time for president.

Sandra Rodriguez, ASUN and Student Activities Center Director, thinks students don’t re-run often because elected offices are extremely difficult jobs to hold as a student. According to Rodriguez, the ASUN president has to understand the immediate needs of the students as well as the external factors that impact ASUN, the University, the Nevada System of Higher Education, the state of Nevada and sometimes beyond.

“Most students will do it for a year and after that one year, they’ll realize it’s probably the toughest job they’ve ever had because it requires so much of them,” Rodriguez said.

Regardless, Reilly chooses to run for a second term because there’s a lot left undone, he said, especially in regards to the student budget. He’s spent a lot of time and effort in helping the administration deal with the repercussions of what the final budget cut will be and that’s something he wants to see through.

“I don’t think it’s something that I can just shrug off and say ‘oh my term is over, it’s not my problem anymore,’” Reilly said.

If re-elected, Reilly wants to keep the increase in tuition and fees as low as possible and to see that if tuition does increase, financial aid increases as well. The budget crisis is Reilly’s main concern.

He also wants to see the Tradition Committee running again. He hopes to get SAFE (Student Aid for Emergencies) to expand funding to student emergencies, consisting of no interest loans. He wants ASUN to undergo internal reform as well, such as changing club funding policies and lessening some of the restrictions that are placed on clubs and organization funding.

Reilly believes he has the skills to achieve these goals, especially regarding the budget crisis. He thinks these skills will be “more important than ever” in the upcoming year.

According to Reilly, his choice for vice president, Maritza Perez, has a lot of the same views as him, with only a few minor differences. Still, they’re very like-minded on their vision for the campus.

“Our relationship is very complementary,” Reilly said. “She brings a lot of things to the table that I don’t. I feel that we just complement each other very well and we’ll make a strong team next year.”

A big role of vice president is diversity initiatives, in which, Reilly thinks Perez has excellent credentials in this area. Perez was the founder of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) chapter on campus and the Latino Student Advisory Board. She’s also the current Multi-cultural and Diversity Club Commissioner. Reilly said that her credentials and passion in this area really set her apart from everyone else.

Another reason he chose was for her political organizational skills. With experience in the ASUN senate and with the Obama campaign last year, Reilly thinks she’s qualified for a vice president role.

The Cabrera-Jose campaign

Cabrera has a much different approach than Reilly to the ASUN government. A 21-year-old international affairs and political science major from Reno, Cabrera thinks that Reilly sometimes doesn’t see the bigger picture like he does. Cabrera thinks the campus has had one approach and needs a fresh perspective.

One of the biggest things Cabrera wants to do is bring students to the forefront of all issues, including the budget crisis. He doesn’t think ASUN currently responds to student needs.

“I’m going to have to re-evaluate where things are going but it won’t be without a lot of student input of what needs to be done,” Cabrera said.

In regards to the student budget, Cabrera doesn’t think spending more money is realistic. He thinks the campus shouldn’t advocate for any more student fees. He wants to re-evaluate club spending, programs and positions. He plans to make Inkblot (a University PR department) useful for clubs and for it to help students put on events. He also plans to re-evaluate how the Director of Legal Services position can be more effective to serve students.

Cabrera believes that the ASUN president is the go-to person that serves as the only face of the students. He wants to empower the Senate to serve as a stronger student voice. He also wants to ensure that the Judicial Council stops being ignored as a branch of government.

Cabrera said these were all things that were promised last year but never happened. He thinks he can make it happen.

“When I promise things are going to happen, I follow through on it,” he said.

Cabrera’s vice president choice Charlie Jose, according to Cabrera, gives “125 percent” and understands how government works and what needs to happen to best fight the budget cuts. Cabrera notes Jose’s experience as senator in the College of Liberal Arts as very important.

Jose is also as a Resident Assistant in Argenta Hall and served as a Judicial Board Member for the Residence Hall Association. He’s a member of various organizations on campus as well. When it comes to diversity issues, Cabrera said Jose understands and is sophisticated about them.

Since Cabrera wants different opinions and different voices of students at the University heard, he thinks that the differences between he and Jose are perfect. He thinks decisions should come from multiple varying sources. But he also recognizes the similarities they have.

“I think our platform coincides pretty well and I think we have the same general goals but not the same means and I think that’s perfect,” Cabrera said.

Explaining the increase

The University’s budget crisis and the state’s economic downturn are big issues that many of the ASUN candidates have been addressing. Rodriguez believes that these economic issues that are “threatening a traditional college experience” explain the increase in students running for office this year.

“These things that are happening (with the budget crisis) are going to have a direct impact on the quality of the education they’re (students) going to receive,” Rodriguez said. “To me, this is students rising to the occasion.”

A student organization on campus named START (students taking action and reducing tuition) reacted to the budget crisis with 10 of their members running for ASUN. Focused mainly around reducing the ASUN budget and returning the money back to the students, START hopes to create an all-volunteer ASUN government where ASUN leaders receive no paid salary. They want to stop raising fees and to re-allocate club spending, as well as many other things.

Mary Hunton, an 18-year-old English major from Elko, said she doubts she would be running if it wasn’t for START. A senatorial candidate in the College of Liberal Arts and a START member, Hunton truly believes in the START platform.

“Because of the current budget crisis, we need to be more careful where ASUN puts its money,” Hunton said. “There are many ways we can re-allocate these funds to make us more money-efficient while still helping the students.”

If all 10 of START members running for office win, they would make up close to half of the ASUN senate. Hunton added, “There is power in numbers.”

Another possible explanation for the increase in students running is the buzz of the previous national elections. Reilly believes that the enthusiasm surrounding that election shifted over to the upcoming ASUN elections. He sees how the school has greatly benefited from this.

“Now students are given much more of an option and I think that’s a great thing,” Reilly said.

“You’re going to get higher quality leaders and more competitive races.”

Rodriguez also thinks the last national elections played a role in more students running for ASUN office. She thinks students are riding on the energy generated from these elections.

“Students are actually believing in the process,” Rodriguez said. “…to me, this is young people buying into the process and saying ‘you know what, we want to play a role in the process.’”

Competition grows fierce

Of the eight colleges, the College of Engineering has the most competition. Out of eight people running, only two will be elected to a senator position. That’s 25 percent of the students running.
Travis Hagen, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major from Reno, views this intense competition as a positive thing.

“I think everyone has an equal chance which is why I’m confident that those who have well-researched, prepared plans are going to succeed,” Hagen, a College of Engineering candidate, said.

“There’s not a lot of room for cronyism in the College of Engineering.”

The College of Liberal Arts also has high competition. Of the 20 running for the Senate, only eight will be accepted into office. That’s 33 percent of the students running.

College of Liberal Arts candidate Daniel Clark, a 20-year-old art major from Henderson, Nev., thinks incumbents have the best chance of winning because they already have the experience necessary to handle the issues presented in this time of crisis. Not an incumbent himself, he feels concerned.

“I guess the best word to describe how I’m feeling right now is apprehensive because I’m not quite sure where this is going,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing because I’m paying more attention to everything.”

Not all senate races are competitive, though. The College of Education and Division of Health Sciences races are not competitive at all, since everyone who’s running wins automatically due to a lack of competition.

Jessica Purney, a 22-year-old secondary education major from Henderson, thinks there are pros and cons to her automatic win in the College of Education. Now she can dedicate time to the goals she set forth to do this year in the senate and can also dedicate time in advocating candidates she wants to win. But she misses out on something she appreciates.

“I miss the fierce competitiveness and drive to help me realize what a prestigious position this is,” Purney said.

The rise of technology

New technology has also been a huge factor in this year’s ASUN elections. Many of the candidates have used several new mediums to reach students.

Cabrera and Jose have their own website in which they hired a webmaster to manage. Cabrera thinks it’s a good way to get the word out about their campaign and will be a great tool in the coming year if they’re elected. They also have Facebook and Myspace accounts.

“It’s all about creating a buzz,” Cabrera said.

Reilly and Perez have also used new technology in their campaign. They’ve done online video campaigning and Facebook/Myspace promoting. Reilly thinks this is good to a certain extent but not the most important means of promotion.

“Nothing will ever replace face to face campaigning nor should it,” he said.

Educate yourselves

The ASUN presidential and vice presidential debate on Thursday, March 5, were streamed live on the Nevada Sagebrush website. It will soon be on the Nevada Sagebrush website in both video and audio forms.

To learn about all of the candidates, go to Nevada Sagebrush ASUN page. There’s also information about the candidates on Nevada ASUN.

Cast your vote

The ASUN elections take place on March 11-12. To vote, go to the food court on the second floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union any time from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 11 and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 12. Another polling location is in the Ansari Business Building. To vote there, go to the second floor in the Business Student Lounge on March 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or on March 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A student ID is required to vote.

Students that can’t make it to campus on voting days are allowed to cast absentee ballots. Ballots will be available to pick up until Friday, March 6 in the Accounting Office on the third floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union.


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