Candidates disappoint panelists

by Tracy Ellingson

The three tickets vying for the Minnesota Student Association presidential and vice presidential positions met for the first time Wednesday to compete for student support.
All six candidates fielded questions from a six-member panel during a debate witnessed by about 15 people in the St. Paul Student Center. But after the first half hour, panelists still hadn’t heard the specific information they were looking for.
Panelist Jim Hilt prefaced his second question for the candidates by saying he had heard enough generalities and wanted the candidates to give more specifics in their answers.
Several University groups were represented on the panel, including residence halls, fraternities and sororities, College Republicans, the U-DFL, MSA and The Minnesota Daily.
Hilt’s second question, which asked the candidates to evaluate one another’s differences, seemed to change the debate’s direction.
“The question I want to pose to you — and I want very specific responses — is what are the weaknesses of your opponent?” Hilt asked. “Very specific.”
Hilt shook his head as presidential candidate Jigar Madia, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, called his opponent, Corey Donovan, a CLA junior, “an honest guy” and said that Donovan’s running mate, Kiaora Bohlool, also a CLA junior, worked hard in MSA.
The candidates generally refused to attack each other, but from this point forward, they began to clarify their own campaign themes more aggressively.
Derek Shemon and Jason Strid, both sophomores at the University, and the most recent ticket to enter the race, made their first public appearance as candidates at the debate. Shemon and Strid, taking on a Ross Perot-esque style, veered from the traditional campaign rhetoric, calling their campaign a revolution in the student government.
“We don’t want to worry about who we’re pleasing or who we’re not pleasing. We’re here to start a revolution,” Shemon said.
Strid said part of that revolution will have to come from MSA leaders being honest with the students.
“We’re realists. We’re not going to tell you what you want to hear … we’re going to tell you how it is,” Strid said.
“We’re going to try to fix it to our ability,” he said. “Whatever power MSA has, we’ll try to use it.”
Although Shemon and Strid were unfamiliar with the way MSA operates, Donovan and Madia both have extensive experience with the organization. Donovan is the current chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee, and Madia is the speaker of the MSA Forum.
Donovan said next year can be a defining year for student government with new University President-elect Mark Yudof set to take office in July. In order for MSA to build a strong relationship with Yudof, he said, student leaders must show they have defined principles, something Donovan pointed to as an area where they are superior to their opponents.
“We have ideals; we believe in students,” Donovan said. ‘We believe we can go to students and say, “What do you want to work on? We’ll help you get things done with the new administration.'”
Although Donovan and Bohlool have said they will wait to determine what issues are important to students until next year, Madia and his running mate Bridgette Murphy, a junior in the College of Human Ecology, said they have already consulted with students to develop their platform, dubbed “the 12 Months of Action.”
“One ticket here today has offered you a concrete plan, a concrete agenda of what they’re going to accomplish next year,” Madia said.
The plan includes guaranteeing students a 15-minute maximum-wait policy for all student services, use of U Cards in businesses around campus and increased campus safety.
The candidates will have a second chance to further differentiate themselves in a final debate April 21 in Coffman. The all-campus elections will take place April 23 and 24.