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SGA presidential candidates clash in second debate of the week

In the second of two Student Government Association debates, presidential candidates met in the Student Center South Houston Room Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. and discussed issues they want to address on their platforms as well as their respective qualifications for the role. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

The three students running for president of the Student Government Association’s 56th Administration took the stage in the Student Center South’s Houston Room on Wednesday evening to discuss their respective qualifications and platforms in the 2019 Student Government Association Presidential Debate, co-sponsored by The Cougar and the Election Commission.

The 2019 elections feature three candidates, each with their running-mates. Current SGA Chief of Staff Allison Lawrence and her vice-presidential candidate Maysarah Kazia represent Students Unite; Current CLASS Sen. Moiz Syed and his vice-presidential candidate Nader Irsan represent Coogs Unite; and political science junior Claude Johnson and his vice-presidential candidate Natasha Ulow represent EVERY COOG.

The debate was moderated by Jasmine Davis, the editor-in-chief of The Cougar, and SGA Assistant Election Commissioner Gabe Aguilar. Moderators asked both general questions and candidate-specific questions, all of which were authored by The Cougar.

Audience members also tweeted in questions using #SGAszn2019 for the candidates for the final round of the debate, which was moderated by The Cougar’s web editor, Laura Contasti.

Prior experience

In an early round of candidate-specific questions, Lawrence was asked what results stemmed from her efforts as the current SGA chief-of-staff and what legislation she would like to write if elected to the next administration.

“If you go into any C-Store right now or in any market on campus, you will see the exact effects because all of the menstrual products offered are products that I picked with David Riddle, the director of Chartwells,” Lawrence said. “Originally, menstrual products were seen as a luxury item whereas condoms were seen as a necessary item, and I pointed out how this is ridiculous, and David Riddle agreed with me.”

Lawrence said if she were elected, she would bring results like this one to policies she wishes to implement next year, such as higher wages for student employees, third-party medical insurance acceptance at the UH Student Health Center and the Green Fund for on-campus sustainability.

“It’s important to put initiatives into legislation and policy because that way it gets the wheels turning, it shows that this is a public goal and that this is what students want,” Lawrence said.

In a candidate-specific question, Syed was asked what initiatives he had personally launched since taking office as a CLASS senator. Moderators also asked which of those successful initiatives benefited CLASS students.

“I played a pivotal part in the CLASS Career Fair. I had weekly meetings with Career Services, and in those meeting minutes, I continuously updated the students on the results of the CLASS Career Fair,” Syed said. “In the end, it’s about the students. Doing my job as the CLASS senator, I did my best to represent the CLASS students.”

In a rebuttal shortly following Syed’s response, Lawrence said Syed was more of a volunteer in the CLASS Career Fair process while the previous speaker of the SGA Senate, Andrew Trinh, did most of the event’s organizing.

“Andrew actually assisted with the Graduate Career Fair. I was more involved in the implementation of the CLASS Career Fair,” Syed said in response. “Now what I did specifically, I met with Career Services every single week, and we worked on specific ways to make the Career Fair more specialized.”

Davis provided a fact check following the rebuttals, clarifying that Trinh had confirmed that Syed joined the CLASS Career Fair later on in the process.

In another round of candidate-specific questions, Johnson was asked how his experience with leadership in the Caribbean Student Organization, within the NAACP and within the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity could give him a different perspective on student life at the University.

“What it gives me is the opportunity to be the voice and be the face of a more or less disenfranchised community here at UH because I believe our interests aren’t represented at the University’s forefront,” Johnson said. “As the vice president of Phi Beta Sigma, I helped bring our chapter’s membership to the largest it’s been since its inception back in 1974.”

Johnson said his experience in making the Caribbean Student Organization more accessible and his groundwork with the NAACP will both serve as benefits if he is elected.

“Even if you are truly trying to be a leader, you have to be able to work the ground game. You have to be able to work from the floor up,” Johnson said. “You have to be willing to put in the work with every general member as well as lead from the front.”

Future plans

In a question posed by SGA President Cameron Barrett, Syed was asked to name two original ideas he has had regarding the three main areas of his platform. Syed said he plans on putting senators’ contact information all over campus, setting up a platform that makes it easier to contact Registered Student Organization leaders and an anonymous reporting system to address campus safety.

Johnson was later asked, in a candidate-specific question from Twitter, how he would collaborate with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion to expand diversity on campus, since tackling the University’s usage of diversity as a “token” was one of his more popular campaign promises.

“I would partner with (CDI) as far as making it more visible on campus through my own personal social media, as well as going to the UC and speaking with students on a one-to-one basis,” Johnson said. “Everyone comes through this school, and it’s easier to talk with people about things they want that can impact their life.”

In another candidate-specific question, Lawrence was asked how she plans on implementing a fall break, even though the initiative passed in the SGA Senate more than two years ago, and final decisions on the matter rest solely with University administrators.

“The fact is that we only have five days off during our entire fall semester. That can be exhausting for students,” Lawrence said. “This is a very important initiative to have, and what I wanna do is make sure that (the initiative) is not getting stuck and lost in these little holes in the bureaucratic policies.”

The conclusion of the debate saw each candidate give closing statements reiterating their campaigns and platforms.

Audience reactions

“I really liked the fact-checking. I thought that was really helpful for the audience to know just that the candidates couldn’t say things for (them) to not be true, and I thought those were the best moments,” said biomedical engineering sophomore Kamilah Walker-Charles.

Walker-Charles said she thought Lawrence did the best job at the debate and said Johnson also performed well.

“I think (Lawrence) did the best, she had very good responses to almost everything,” Walker-Charles said. “(Johnson) did really well, too. He had good responses to everything, so I think they both did well.”

Hotel and restaurant management sophomore Kaytlyn James said she thought the fact-checking was good because getting to see someone’s true colors is important to her.

“(Lawrence) definitely has my vote, she did great,” James said. “(Johnson) did pretty well, too. If I’m being honest, (Syed) was being a little defensive, but overall it went pretty well.”

Voting for the 2019 Student Government Association elections opened midnight Thursday and runs through Feb. 27. Students can vote through Get Involved.

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