Zearley reflects on past year

Bryce Haugen

Outgoing Minnesota Student Association President Tom Zearley said his term has focused on empowering students, from the budget process to the Board of Regents.

“We’ve really been pushing representation everywhere,” he said. “We definitely made big steps forward.”

Undergraduate students will elect Zearley’s replacement in today and Thursday’s All-Campus Elections. Zearley’s former running mate, vice president Amy Jo Pierce, is among five candidates vying for the top job.

Zearley said his main goal as president was “to make students’ lives better.”

“Overall, we accomplished a lot more good than bad,” he said.

Some major accomplishments include increasing students’ awareness of MSA and expanded legislative lobbying, Zearley said.

Pierce, who co-founded the Student Public Affairs Coalition with graduate student government leaders, said students had a real impact on the University’s bonding bill and budget requests.

“We’ve had pressure on (legislators) year round instead of just one lobby day,” she said. “I really think that had a big effect on how the legislators viewed students.”

Through another program, called “tenant workshops,” MSA provided advice and information for approximately 500 prospective renters, Zearley said. He said he hopes the service expands each year.

Although the year was a success, MSA leaders said there is still work to do.

Zearley said he hoped his presidency could have established a permanent late-night bus.

“We are making a little progress,” he said. “It’s not very fast progress, but it’s not backwards.”

MSA was also often bogged down by unnecessary partisan bickering, Pierce said.

“That can be frustrating,” she said. “Working through the University bureaucracy is tough enough as it is.”

MSA Forum member Ashley Sierra, who lost to Zearley last year by less than 100 votes, said Zearley and Pierce deserve some blame for MSA’s tone.

“A lot of the turbulence in MSA is not because of partisanship, but rather a mistrust for the administration because of the circumstances of (last year’s) election,” she said.

Last year, some candidates, including Sierra, accused Zearley’s campaign of using leaked voting results to urge trailing candidates to drop out. Those charges were never proven.

“You can’t pretend like the allegations didn’t happen,” Sierra said. “It could have been a much better year if those things would have been addressed.”

Overall, she said, “it was a rocky year, but we got things done.”

Former MSA president and University law student Josh Colburn offered advice to next year’s MSA leadership. Leaders must stay organized, delegate responsibility, and be ready for anything, he said.

“There’s no syllabus telling you what the next day’s going to be like,” Colburn said.

“You could get a phone call in the middle of the night that’s going to tell you what your next two weeks are going to be about.”

“You’ll be glad when you’re done, but you’ll be glad you did it.”

Zearley, a junior in the biosystems and agricultural engineering department, will leave MSA in May. He said he plans to get more involved in his department, and to keep in contact with his legislators.

“I can’t stay idly by, but I’d like to stay out of the big stuff for the sake of next year’s MSA president,” he said.

Zearley, a St. Paul student, said he’ll also continue to fight the stereotype that all St. Paul students are farmers.

If Pierce, an education junior, doesn’t get elected MSA president, she said she’ll join Zearley in retiring from MSA and return to volunteer work. She also said she will run in this fall’s Twin Cities Marathon regardless of the election’s outcome.