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Experience takes backseat to election issues

Amanda Michaels | Friday, January 28, 2005

In a race that boasts four senators, two Senate committee chairs, the Student Union Board’s director of programming and the current administration’s chief executive assistant, experience in student government is not the trump card it was made out to be in last year’s student body president election.

The candidates are instead pointing to results as the deciding factor.

“Many of the tickets have experience,” presidential candidate James Leito said. “It is what people have done with this experience that will become a key issue.”

Leito and his running mate, junior Jordan Bongiovanni, are both senators – for Siegfried and Cavanaugh, respectively – and face the other full student government ticket of Chief Executive Assistant junior Dave Baron and Badin senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Gender Relations, sophomore Lizzi Shappell.

Presidential candidate Craig Brede and Chair of the Senate Committee on Academic Affairs Vijay Ramanan, while experienced, admitted their history of direct involvement in student government is not as long as the others. However, they said their accomplishments will easily match up.

“Charlie Weis didn’t get hired just because he spent some time in the NFL. He got hired because he has two Super Bowl rings, because the fact that he’s had success before makes us believe that he will have more in the future,” Brede said. “Some of the other candidates have spent a long time in student government, but the true test is, ‘What have you done with it?’ In that sense, our leadership experience far outclasses our opponents.”

Another mixed ticket is that of SUB director of programming Mark Healy and freshman Bob Costa. Costa indicated his success at bringing big-name bands to his Philadelphia high school – as chronicled in the book “Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School” – as a more valuable asset than an official title.

The ticket of Alec White and Sorin senator Erik Powers brushed off the importance of student government experience, highlighting instead the benefits of a fresher perspective.

“We’re kind of young pups compared to some of the other tickets,” White said. “But we like to view democracy as a trip to the pound for a new dog – people like puppies, and Old Yeller went crazy before he had to be put down.”

The freshman ticket of Will Marra and Peter Harig cited movies like “Independence Day” and “Air Force One” as training enough to handle a presidency. They also claimed to be free of the “greed, vice and corruption” they said plagued student government.

The fact that half of the candidates have worked side by side on some of this year’s hot-button issues has led to similar platforms – focusing on points like putting a student on the Board of Trustees, securing a concert endowment and finding a new process for ticket distribution – but they all indicated the solutions they offer are what set each ticket apart.

“We all respect each other, but at the same time have different ways to approaching issues, which is why many of us are running,” Leito said.

As the Notre Dame student body proved last year after electing Adam Istvan and Karla Bell, relative newcomers to the student government scene, experience is not the ultimate measuring stick. The candidates agreed, calling a working knowledge of the student government useful in accomplishing goals, but indicated the need for a deeper motivation.

“Experience is no doubt a benefit in terms of knowing the system, relating to administrators and trustees, and mobilizing the student body. However, experience will only take a president and vice president so far,” Baron said. “It takes ingenuity and resourcefulness to make real changes happen.”