Melanie Ferrari, left, defeated Samuel Hillhouse, right, for the Texas State student body presidency in Wednesday’s election. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Melanie Ferrari is now Texas State’s student body president, achieving a sweeping electoral victory Wednesday night with 87.2 percent of the vote in a lightly attended election.
Ferrari’s running mate, Associated Student Government (ASG) Senator Colter Ray, received 98.6 percent of votes cast for the office of student body vice president. Ferrari, also an ASG senator, garnered 2,394 votes and Ray received 2,593 votes, putting the voter turnout at about seven and eight percent, respectively.
The Ferrari-Ray ticket, endorsed by dozens of ASG senators, ran against Samuel Hillhouse, a political science sophomore who ran without a running mate. Hillhouse, described by one media outlet as a “high-tech outsider,” received 314 votes, or 11.4 percent of the vote. Hillhouse pushed a reform-oriented agenda, attacking ASG in his campaign platform, which included the claim that the institution has “woefully failed to fulfill” its obligation to “represent and serve the student body.”
The Ferrari-Ray campaign fielded dozens of volunteers with tables located throughout campus, compared to Hillhouse’s facebook.com group and forays in the university Quad to drum up support with one-on-one conversations.
Ferrari said her supporters will assemble for a final campaign meeting Thursday evening to review their successes and witness their faithful senators’ signing of written oaths binding them to the Ferrari-Ray platform.
“And we’re actually going to start assigning people from our campaign to the initiatives that we set out to achieve, because we want to get some stuff done this summer,” Ferrari said. “We don’t want to waste any time. We have so much to accomplish, so little time.”
Ferrari’s platform consisted of a three-pronged effort aimed at “strengthening communication between the student body and the administration while actively supporting student organizations,” along with “representing students needs to the community while fulfilling their needs on campus,” and enhancing Bobcat pride while strengthening alumni relations.
The initiatives include the creation of a freshman council, the lighting of the Alkek Library with maroon floodlights on special occasions, the engraving of the Alma Mater lyrics on the steps of the library, the creation of an ASG alumni board, and the creation of a leadership conference for local high school students. Another initiative proposed by the Ferrari-Ray campaign would involve the university offering bricks for sale to students, who would have their names engraved upon them for fixture around the Bobcat statue near the center of campus.
During a recent debate, Hillhouse criticized Ferrari’s Bobcat Brick’s proposal as one providing no benefit for students like himself.
Hillhouse said he will “definitely consider” running for an ASG office again, reiterating his criticism that ASG “transparency needs to go a step further.” Hillhouse called on ASG to “embrace the technology” that he said can facilitate more interaction between elected officials and their constituents. Hillhouse said ASG should, at the very least, send out emails to students advising them of upcoming meetings and pending legislation, and ideally should create a new website integrating the university email system with the ability to offer instant feedback concerning ASG’s activities.
“Hopefully they’ll consider the entire student body as constituents and try to actively get everybody’s opinions before making major legislation,” Hillhouse said.
ASG has a budget of $39,000, though current ASG President Chris Covo said he is confident the administration will approve an increase to $49,000. ASG must obtain approval from the university administration before expending funds.
Covo said ASG controls $8 million in student service fees because the committee that controls the funds is composed mostly of students. The nine-member Student Service Fee Committee is composed of the student body president, student body vice president, three students appointed by the president, and four university staff and faculty members.
“Students have a lot of power in how that money is distributed,” said Texas State Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Margarita Arellano. “So, there’s a lot of things … ASG can do. They can influence policy. They do not necessarily make policy. But if they recommend something that the administration thinks is worth doing, it will work. A lot of time, to be honest with you, they do their homework well, and they do recommend a lot of things that do take place. Other times, they recommend something that doesn’t go, so it depends. But, most of the time, they can make things happen.”
Some of ASG’s most recently approved legislation include resolutions of support for the inclusion of San Marcos within the Austin Community College district, the creation of an online software application for students to sign up for closed courses and be put on an automated waiting list, a pilot program for the 2010 football season enabling concession stand vendors to accept credit or debit cards, and a student-nominated, employee recognition program for campus food service provider Chartwells.
As occurred last year, the recent ASG election season featured unofficial polling locations run by campaign volunteers, often with free food. There is one official polling location around which the two student election commissioners maintained an apolitical zone 50-feet in diameter.
Though Texas State enrolls more than 30,000 enrolled students, there is only one polling location because students with only an Internet connection and a valid student personal identification number can vote online.
Sarah Hadley, who received 135 votes, or 51.1 percent of the vote, in the College of Applied Arts senatorial race, ran on the Ferrari-Ray ticket and manned a Ferrari-Ray campaign table in the days before the election. The table featured two laptops with wireless Internet connectivity and a large pile of fruit kolaches. Hadley said there were nine such tables on campus, and there would be cookies available at the Quad location for prospective voters later on.
“Just to be like, ‘Hey, here’s some kolaches or cookies — oh, hey, have you voted?'” Hadley explained.
Another Ferrari-Ray campaigner nearby said providing food was part of the campaign’s attempt “to get our voting numbers up.”
The ASG election code allows for the existence of polling stations run by campaigners who provide promotional literature and free food to voters. Hillhouse said he did not provide polling locations or free food in the run-up to the election.
“I didn’t want to push my name over my ideas, and I feel like with that kind of stuff, you just look at a name before you hear the ideas,” Hillhouse said. “But I don’t have any problem with the rules as they are right now.”
Texas State Professor Patricia Parent, who specializes in campaigns and elections, said there is no legal basis for wanting to hold ASG to the same standards as state and local governments, or the federal government.
“I think a lot of our concerns with elections stems from the fact that public officials are making tax policy,” Parent said. “They’re taking money and transferring that into the services of a certain nature. So, from that perspective, there might not be a reason to be concerned about, say, any kind of corrupting influence of something like free kolaches.”Email | Print