Personal politics present in MSA

Chad Hamblin

Aaron Solem, a Minnesota Student Association Forum member, was on the chopping block.

It was MSA’s turn to approve members for the fees committee at its Nov. 16 meeting, and several Forum members wanted to remove Solem, an executive board member and known conservative.

After a few Forum members spoke both for and against Solem, Vice President Amy Pierce stood up to the microphone and said, “The only reason they want to take Aaron off is because he’s a conservative.”

Despite being a nonpartisan group, MSA can get pretty political.

At the next Forum meeting, two weeks later, members discussed if student groups – including political groups – should be allowed to endorse MSA candidates when they run in the All-Campus Election at the end of the year.

In protest, Shaun Laden, a Forum member whom the University DFL endorsed when he ran last year, moved to force all Forum members to abandon any personal political ideas they have. The motion failed, but his message was clear: Personal politics sometimes influence what happens in MSA.

Personal politics

Even members who claim to keep their political views private see a split between conservatives and liberals in the Forum.

Forum member Steve Wang said he tries to avoid political cliques because he’s the fees committee chairman and partially responsible for allocating money to student groups.

But that doesn’t stop him from noticing others’ behavior after meetings adjourn, he said.

“There are two different groups,” he said. “The liberal group kind of migrates to a circle, and the conservatives migrate to a circle. It’s kind of funny.”

MSA President Tom Zearley also said he tries to keep his political views private and sees some political fighting on the Forum floor.

Most MSA issues don’t really fall into the realm of politics, Zearley said. But when there is a controversial topic, he said, he sees liberals challenging conservatives and vice versa. Oftentimes when debates break out, it is the liberals and the conservatives squaring off, he said.

“Are we here to be an extension of the state government? I hope not, because we wouldn’t get anything done,” he said. “We’re here to represent the students.”

Still, Zearley said, when Forum members disagree, it’s healthy for the group.

“If everyone’s getting along perfectly, something’s wrong,” he said. “As long as you don’t start interrupting them or making faces at them.”

Partisan fights

Laden said that when a Forum member brings up the issue of partisanship in MSA, it devolves into “petty arguments.”

“What are we doing? We’re infighting,” he said. “That’s fine, if you want your organization to be a social club.”

Laden said he wants MSA to be more than that. The group should focus more on substantive issues that possibly cross into the political realm, he said.

Laden said he wants to see resolutions regarding the University’s stance on genetically modified wild rice and lobbying efforts.

“These are political issues, and you don’t just turn that part of you off when you make those decisions,” he said. “Instead, we’re too busy talking about a late-night bus that’s not gonna happen.”

Separate but prevalent

While many MSA Forum members said they agree personal politics are visible in the group, their opinions differ on how to handle them.

Solem, a self-described conservative, said that he tries to leave his political views at the door when he deals with MSA responsibilities.

“It can be difficult, but at the end of the day, it’s not too hard,” Solem said.

Pierce, who said she is critical of both mainstream parties but considers herself a conservative, also said she keeps her political views out of MSA business.

“You can do it; you can separate yourself,” Pierce said. “You can have your own convictions and be passionate about them, and at the same time be open-minded.”

But Colin Schwensohn, also endorsed by U-DFL, said his political views and personal values blend together and play a part in some of his decisions in MSA.

“You can’t separate an ideology from an individual,” Schwensohn said. “I bring to the table a lot of my personal values.”

Laden, who said he is a liberal, also said his politics sometimes affect his decisions, and other Forum members are no exception.

“The members themselves certainly are political beings,” he said. “That’s the nature of what we’re doing here.”

Solem said he thinks there is room for politics in MSA, but only to an extent.

“There’s a breaking point, I think,” he said. “I think it should stop where the political viewpoint gets in the way of what’s best for the students.”

For the students

Though liberal and conservative Forum members might disagree on stem cell research and health care, many said they agree the main goal of MSA is to represent students.

Schwensohn said almost everyone in MSA wants what is best for the students, even if political ideas might sometimes get in the way.

“You have to cut through that fog,” he said. “I hope we’re able to work together to work on student issues.”

Solem said that regardless of political differences, in the end, most Forum members vote similarly when it comes to student issues.

“The people who bring politics into Forum usually end up on the same side,” he said.