VP Candidate Controversy Swirls As Elections Begin

March 30, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

By Andy Garcia and Aida Ahmed
atgarcia@smu.edu, aahmed@smu.edu

UPDATED AT 6:16 P.M.

Voting began today for Student Senate Elections amid allegations of negative campaigning among vice presidential candidates.

The vice presidential candidates are:
-Alex Ehmke
-Joseph Esau
-Roza Essaw

During the Student Senate meeting Tuesday, Student Body President Jake Torres told the legislature that some of the campaigns had become heated and that such behavior is a poor reflection on the senate.

Campaigning for the elections began on March 20, following a mandatory candidate meeting where Senate Membership Chair Katherine Ladner spoke about the campaigning rules. Students running in the election are required to follow the Student Senate Election Code.

Since that meeting however, two VP candidates have accused each other of making ambiguous statements against their competitors.

Statements Regarding Stances on the Minority Senate Seats

The first known statement occurred during a Women’s Interest Network meeting on March 22 at which Essaw mentioned her stance on minority senate seats, particularly the potential LGBT seat.

Essaw has confirmed with the SMU Daily Mustang that she stated Alex Ehmke was against the LGBT seat and voted against it last year. She also said that she does not know Ehmke’s current stance on the issue.

“Alex Ehmke says that his opinions [on the LGBT seat] have changed,” said Essaw. “There is no way to know [his opinion on the LGBT seat] unless legislation is brought up. Last year, legislation was brought up, he voted against it.”

Senator Harvey Luna, who is writing legislation to create the LGBT seat, has stated that Ehmke has shown interest in his work. Luna has also said that Ehmke has voiced concerns about a means in which the LGBT community at SMU can elect an appropriate senator.

Monday night, Ehmke addressed the Association of Black Students and told them that he does not support the special interest seats.

“Alex’s speech was perceived negatively by the ABS general membership,” said ABS Vice President Courtney Kelly. “He basically said he does not support the special interest seat for the African-American senator. His reasoning was that… there were a number of first-year senators that are minorities so therefore there really is no need for there to be an African-American seat.”

When asked why he did not support special interest seats at the Student Body Officer Debate, Ehmke said as vice president he would implement the Liaison Program to better communicate with leaders in minority organizations.

After a phone interview with the SMU Daily Mustang Ehmke added that although he does not support interest seats, he is in favor of the LGBT seat as long as special interest seats exist. He also confirmed that he previously had discussions with Luna on how to make the election mechanism work for the LGBT seat.

“I think the Liaison Program would be a better and effective way of representing minorities,” said Ehmke. “We not longer need interest seats to subsidize the election of minorities because they’ve proven themselves perfectly able to be elected.”

Ehmke cited that this year, out of the five first-year senators, two are African-American, two are Asian and one is Hispanic.

Statements Regarding Lack of Interest In IFC and Subsequent Complaint Filling and Procedure

Ehmke told the SMU Daily Mustang that on March 24 he went to the International Fraternity Council meeting and made statements that Essaw was not interested in the organization.

“[Ehmke] mentioned his opponent wasn’t [at the meeting] and would not represent Greek life as he would,” said IFC President Mike Alberts. “He insinuated that she didn’t want to be [at the meeting].”

Essaw has stated that she did not attend the meeting due to a time conflict with night class and a paper she had due. Essaw said that she does value the Greek community on campus.

Essaw has also said Ehmke left her a voice mail the following Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for what he said at the IFC meeting.

Essaw later submitted a formal complaint against Ehmke to the Membership Committee on March 29. She said that the complaint was not meant to disqualify him, but to have him make a public apology.

Following the complaint being submitted, Ehmke was required to attend a closed door Complaint Hearing where he was found not guilty of violating the election code.

Chair Ladner, who oversaw the hearing, has declined to comment on the situation citing that is over and now up for the candidates to deal with.

Despite his concerns about the hearing, Ehmke is satisfied with the verdict.

“Once all the facts were considered and once all the people were able to determine objectively what actually happened, what actually had been said, the call of slander did not hold a lot of ground,” said Ehmke.

Reaction Towards Campaign Behavior

Many students believe the conflict in the vice presidential elections are a poor reflection on both the senate and SMU as a whole.

“It makes our campus look bad and make the people who do it look bad,” said freshman Kaylin Flores.

Esau, who declined to comment on the situation between his fellow vice presidential candidates, said he does believe that it is important for candidates to run a race in a way that best exemplifies the university.

“It is always in the best interest to maintain a positive campaign because at the end of the day as a student body officer we are elected to represent the community of Southern Methodist University,” said Esau.

Ehmke and Essaw have both commended their opponents on their service to the university and are citing the controversy a result of politics rather than personality.

Voting began Wednesday at midnight and closes Thursday at 5 p.m.