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Candidates clash in general debate

Amanda Michaels | Friday, February 10, 2006

Student government elections: an oasis of fake smiles, mud-slinging and sarcasm during this sickeningly sweet time of year. I always look forward to them, if only for the entertainment value, and last night’s debate didn’t let me down. It was like getting to see the episode of the O.C. I missed – complete with car wrecks (or make that ‘train wrecks’), lofty promises and wild punches.

It’s a shame everyone didn’t watch the debate, because how they carry themselves and present their ideas there is indicative of what kind of leaders they will be. And from the point of view of someone who has covered Notre Dame’s student government for three years, the finer points of the platforms just don’t matter in the long run. The basic principles – more accessible government, better community relations, improved diversity services – stay the same year after year, and a good idea gets attention no matter who wins.

The candidates themselves and the style of diplomacy they bring to office are what determines how much gets accomplished. Campaign promises get handed down from administration to administration until one of them is strong enough to actually make a dent in the student government ‘to do’ list.

I give a nod to the younger tickets of Wells-Chamberlain and Black-Martinez and send them on their way. It takes a lot of guts (or “GUTS”, if you’re the McCune-Szewczyk joke ticket) to put yourself out there and run for election, but the leader of the student body should have more than a semester or three under his or her belt.

On the subject of maturity, the Laws-Costa ticket might want to be careful about how they present themselves, for their actions at the debate last night were nothing short of petulant. Overly aggressive, they broadly attacked the current student government and slung a few handfuls of mud directly at fellow candidate Lizzi Shappell. By harping on relatively minor details like eight-ounce ‘To Go’ cups, repeatedly labeling the Baron-Shappell leadership “mediocre” and calling Shappell out for not attending a communications department meeting, Laws and Costa unnecessarily took the low road.

Their focus should be on larger policy solutions – the president’s responsibility lies there, not in a few more gulps of dining hall coffee – and on how they will expand upon the advances of this year’s student administration, which happened to be one of the most influential and successful in recent history.

Laws and Costa were bull-headed and hostile – not exactly the people you want dealing with the University administration at such a delicate and crucial time. “Stick-it to Jenkins”? Why not just put up a dartboard with his picture on it; it gives the same impression. Laws and Costa need to take a few lessons in diplomacy before they are ready for office.

Shappell and Andrichik shined in the debate. Their answers were detailed and strong, and they didn’t sink to exchanging blows with their fellow candidates to gain ground. The experience Shappell has as vice president is absolutely invaluable. New presidents often spend half their term cultivating working relationships with University higher-ups; she already has them.

But there is a danger in this, as Shappell and Andrichik must distinguish themselves. A concerning amount of their platform consists of projects or policies already in the works – they should indicate what makes them unique.

With any luck, Laws-Costa and Shappell-Andrichik will have another shot at a debate after Monday’s general election – one that will be a little deeper than an eight-ounce coffee cup, and more genuine than a cardboard cut-out.