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Connecting the Dots: ASUA presidential race: a crowded but colorful field

Daniel Scarpinato
By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
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"Communication" is a word politicians love to throw around, whether on the national stage or right here on campus.

"We need to communicate more," they say, with voters, students, each other, whomever.

Close examination of UATV's coverage of yesterday's Associated Students of the University of Arizona presidential debate will clue you into exactly how many times the word "communication" was used, but there is no debate about it: All the candidates are in favor of communicating more with students.

And that's good. No one wants a tight-lipped, closed-club governmental body.

Of course, it's doubtful that any more students will know or understand what ASUA is a year from now. That's just how it works. After all, ASUA isn't some kind of store or business. It's a policy-setting, money-distributing group. Let's face it ¸ no one cares much for that kind of stuff.

Others have tried to make it more interesting. Ray Quintero tried to make ASUA more high-profile through some fancy

campus concerts when he was president. Instead, the bands bailed, and ASUA made some nasty enemies in the University Activities Board.

And no one has tried more than current president J.P. Benedict to turn the tides. His fireside chats have given students the opportunity to interact directly with his Cabinet and himself. But it's doubtful that people are knocking down his door to talk about legislative lobbying.

Still, for the most part, the candidates' criticism of student government is limited and most is warranted. Even though it might be ambitious to promise that students will be more aware of ASUA under the next administration, ambition is good.

In the past, the field has often either been crowded with lame, unenthused candidates or folks with elaborate plans to solve the parking problem and similar schemes that would never get off paper.

With this crowd, we might get some dialogue going and tempers boiling on big, important issues, like tuition and the proposed student fee.

Even though it might be ambitious to promise that students will be more aware of ASUA ... ambition is good.

And don't forget, ASUA elections have this strange way of mirroring the real world. For instance, in spring 2001, just months after the Supreme Court handed the presidential election to George W. Bush by sending Al Gore back to Tennessee and denying him a recount in important counties of Florida, the ASUA Supreme Court (yes, it exists) came out of hibernation to tell administrative vice presidential candidate Tricia Williams to wait a minute before claiming the victory.

So, if that's the case, what can we expect this year? Is Josh Shapiro the John Edwards of campus politics, on a quest to reform student government and hand it back to the people? Maybe Brian Raphel is a scaled-down version of Howard Dean with his outsider, liberal beer keg agenda. Alistair Chapman is a bit like the cool, collected John Kerry, armed with the most attractive campaign logo in the race. And Amanda Meaker, agreeable and pleasant like Joe Lieberman, is carrying the Meaker legacy of her brother, former student regent Matthew Meaker.

It's a big field ¸ and a qualified, passionate one, unlike years past. There will be no landslide victory like Doug Hartz enjoyed two years ago against rugby jock Aaron Black. This will be a competitive student election.

And even though last year's general election between Benedict and superfan Jered Mansell was decided by only 60-some votes, the race was rather dull because the candidates' positions were almost parallel on some major issues.

This year's candidates demonstrated yesterday that they are in touch with the student body and knowledgeable on what's happening.

What's even more inspiring to ASUA historians is that for the first time in a long time, there is at least one formidable candidate from outside of student government.

Shapiro is running an anti-ASUA campaign that just might get him through the primary if he can motivate his greek support.

Sure, Raphel is goofy and his platform illegal, but his presence in the race illustrates ASUA's commitment to democracy. And at least right now, he's not distracting from the dialogue.

If the respectable turnout at yesterday's debate is any indication of how much people care about ASUA, maybe the organization isn't so unknown. Maybe people do care a little.

Our four mild-mannered contestants for president have done a great job telling us why people should care about ASUA. Now, they just need to convince us why we should care about them.

Daniel Scarpinato is a former Daily Wildcat editor in chief and current editor of The Desert Yearbook. He is a journalism and political science senior and can be reached at

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