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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ASUA passes torch onward

    The student government will officially change hands at a ceremony this afternoon, putting an end to the longest presidency in its history and capping off a year its leaders describe as a success despite some high-profile controversy.

    It’s a different view than student leaders have of the previous year for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, which was marred by elections violations as well as impeachment proceedings and sexual harassment accusations against then-president Cade Bernsen.

    “”We needed to have a good year this year, especially after what happened last year,”” said Rhonda Tubbs, interim executive vice president.

    Tommy Bruce, ASUA president-elect, said the organization did what it needed to rebuild its stature on campus, and he attributed that achievement mainly to President Erin Hertzog.

    “”I can’t sing her praises enough,”” Bruce said.

    Hertzog said she has done much of what she set out to accomplish this year within ASUA, though she has seen some projects turn out differently than she hoped.

    “”I don’t regret anything, but I definitely have advice for Tommy,”” Hertzog said.

    Hertzog said she counts her work in crafting a student tuition proposal as the biggest success this year. Leaders from ASUA and other student governments, along with the statewide Arizona Students’ Association, worked to create a proposal that put pressure on state legislators to approve a hefty increase in state money to universities and a tuition increase about a third the size of that offered by President Robert Shelton.

    “”People needed to see some change, no matter what it was.
    Unfortunately for David Reece, the target landed on him.””

    – Bryan Hill,
    ASUA senator

    Eventually, the Arizona Board of Regents rejected the ASA plan in favor of a compromise between the student and presidential proposals, but Hertzog said she still sees the effort as something that will be remembered.

    “”We argued a philosophy behind the tuition-setting process,”” Hertzog said.

    Working in ASUA can be frustrating because much of the organization’s work goes on behind the scenes, so students generally are not aware of all their elected officials do, Hertzog said.

    Specifically, she pointed to work the organization did to set tuition, increase class availability, lower textbook prices and mitigate the effects of Proposition 300, which makes illegal immigrants pay out-of-state tuition.

    “”That’s our biggest downfall,”” Bruce said. “”We don’t let students know.””

    Hertzog said even beyond the behind-the scenes work, students are unaware of the central role ASUA played in planning some of the most noticed campus events, such as Spring Fling and the UA Votes voter registration drive in the fall.

    Although Spring Fling ended up attracting about 30,000 visitors – 5,000 fewer than last year – ASUA adviser Jim Drnek said he still thinks the event was a success.

    “”It was probably one of the best-planned Spring Flings that I’ve seen in 19 years,”” Drnek said.

    Hertzog said her biggest piece of advice to next year’s leaders is to come up with a creative way to inform students what ASUA really does because, as administrative vice president Jami Reinsch put it, most students are “”oblivious”” about it.

    Alivia Wieseler, a physiology sophomore, reacted with surprise when she found out the student government was behind Spring Fling and the voter registration drive.

    “”I don’t know what they do or anything,”” Wieseler said.

    Reinsch said some of the most successful programs and services this year have been SafeRide and the Women’s Resource Center, which are run directly from the ASUA office and usually go unnoticed as part of the organization.

    ‘Drama or no drama’

    This year was not without controversy, culminating in the Feb. 21 resignation of David Reece from the office of executive vice president.

    Reece left the organization citing an illness in his family and his unwillingness to stay involved in ASUA if it were to provide funding to Medical School Students for Choice because of his opposition to abortion.

    Reece and the Appropriations Board he oversaw attempted to withhold money from the group, but Hertzog vetoed their decision and sent it back to the ASUA Senate for consideration. Another decision, to withhold funding from the campus production of “”The Vagina Monologues,”” was also reversed by the senate.

    Reece was also under investigation by Sen. Stephen Gerner, stemming from his work in club funding as well as allegations that he had falsified clubs to funnel money to ASUA candidates during the election season.

    Three weeks after Reece resigned, seven members of the 10-person Appropriations Board resigned as well.

    Bryan Hill, another ASUA senator, said he thinks anger resulting from club-funding decisions was the main force behind what happened to his friend Reece.

    “”People needed to see some change no matter what it was,”” Hill said. “”Unfortunately for David Reece, the target landed on him.””

    Jen Dang, another senator who was elected next year’s administrative vice president, said she knew Reece would resign before it happened.

    “”Everyone could tell there was this tension in the office, and it was kind of inevitable,”” Dang said.

    Blake Rebling, the president of the Appropriations Board who also resigned, had said that ASUA was trying to “”whitewash”” the beliefs of those elected and appointed officials who are political conservatives.

    Hertzog said ASUA should function as a place where political beliefs don’t come into play.

    “”The best interests of the students are sometimes right, sometimes left,”” Hertzog said.

    Charles Wollin, a club advocate who worked under Reece’s supervision, said he would consider Reece a friend, if not a good candidate for the position he was in.

    “”He tried hard, but he wasn’t the best leader,”” Wollin said. “”He did not have his heart in it.””

    Among Reece’s accomplishments was his dramatic increase in money for club funding to $144,000 – higher than any other year but still short of his campaign promise of $150,000.

    “”Unfortunately we weren’t so thrifty with it at the beginning,”” Wollin said. As a result, funds dwindled to $2,000 by the time Tubbs was tapped to replace Reece in the position.

    Tubbs said she worked to raise that figure to $12,000 by the end of the year, which was enough to cover the remaining expenses.

    Hertzog said the controversy surrounding Reece was difficult but it eventually worked to fix problems within the organization.

    “”Drama or no drama, they got fixed,”” Hertzog said.

    Fallen platforms, silent progress

    One thing many members of ASUA did not count on was how difficult it would prove to accomplish many of the goals they set for themselves on the campaign trail.

    “”I did not know what I was getting myself into,”” Dang said.

    Dang and Hill both said it took months to realize the scope of their abilities and then to act on them.

    Dang said she is proud of the work she has done on one of her platform points by working with Sens. Gerner and Samantha Kerr to lower textbook prices.

    The three have worked mostly on trying to get faculty members to submit textbook orders on time, which might end up saving students $6 million total, Dang said.

    Hill said it didn’t take long to realize his goals were unattainable as a senator.

    “”Honestly, I haven’t pursued one single point of my platform,”” Hill said, adding that he hopes students aren’t upset with leaders who don’t or can’t complete the objectives they present to voters because they do other, possibly more beneficial work.

    Hill’s focus has been on meal plans, which he hopes to expand to off-campus locations. He said he has found machines that can be distributed to these eateries to read CatCards, and he has seen that the CatCard infrastructure can handle the growth.

    All that remains, Hill said, is to get approval from union officials.

    One of the main points in the Arizona Daily Wildcat’s endorsement of Hertzog during her campaign for president was her plan to bring a large, profit-generating concert to the UA this year.

    Hertzog said that although that has not happened, ASUA made inroads to getting the athletics department to approve the use of McKale Center as a venue and the UA Budget Office to provide a loan. She said ASUA was working with big artists, which was the ultimate reason the concert didn’t go forward this year.

    Bruce said the concert is still in the works for the future.

    Reinsch said she has accomplished all of her platform points, which included helping the diversity-oriented Wildcat Fair into a successful second year.

    “”It’s something I’m really proud of,”” Reinsch said.

    In the end, Hertzog said she is most proud of the work that students don’t see and which is just beginning. She said projects like Hill’s, the concert and others are too much for one year’s time and require a sustained effort of many years.

    If she has one hope for the next few years, Hertzog said it is to see that their work will not go to waste and will provide tangible results for students and the UA community.

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