SGA candidates need a better plan of action

SGA presidential candidates shake hands at the first debate of the election season

For All Cougars presidential candidate Diego Arriaga (left) shakes hand with Students Unite candidate Cody Szell (right) | Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

Candidates from Students Unite and For All Cougars met Monday night to debate various issues relating to the upcoming Student Government Association election. While representatives from both parties spoke eloquently about their plans to improve the lives of students, they also struggled to perform under pressure at several points. The presidential candidates seemed to have their hearts in the right place, but are good intentions enough to make lasting change?

To be sure, both parties presented themselves with an unmistakable passion. Students Unite presidential candidate Cody Szell talked about his struggles to stay in the race after his mother passed away from cancer, while For All Cougars candidate Diego Arriaga expressed a desire to be the fourth Latino student body president in University history. All of them displayed Cougar pride and a desire to lead the student body towards a brighter future.

But unfortunately, passion itself isn’t enough to make the sweeping changes this student body really needs. The University has seen any number of passionate student body presidents stride into office full of big ideas, only to fail to execute them when it turns out their ideas are impractical or poorly thought out.

For example, For All Cougars’ party platform has a heavy emphasis on addressing campus crime. Arriaga spoke at length about his plan to get more police officers patrolling campus regularly, but offered very little in the way of practical information. Instead, he alluded to a vague “organization” his party has connections to that’s promised to help increase UHPD’s presence on campus.

Tying a major promise like reducing crime to an unnamed organization that you “have connections to” is a problem for more than one reason. For one, it’s hard to gauge how viable Arriaga’s plan is without any actual data on what the organization is or what it would cost students to bring more officers in through this route.

Crime was mentioned by For All Cougars more than nearly any other issue, but their plan to address it seems to hinge on only one vaguely defined connection. Arriaga’s connection might make a huge difference, but flexibility is key to good leadership. If this avenue were to fall through, one has to wonder if they could find a viable backup plan.

To their credit, Arriaga hasn’t served in student government before. Him and his vice presidential candidate Austin Craig lack the experience needed to navigate change within the boundaries of SGA, and it’s possible that they could overcome their inexperience if given the chance.

In contrast, Szell and his vice president Mohammed Tabarra have both served in various positions within student government. But their increased experience does not in and of itself make them more qualified for office. Students Unite pointed to several successes achieved within the outgoing administration, but they also struggled to adequately account for its failures.

While Szell pointed to the administration solving the “Sugar Land Shuttle crisis,” and their appointment of multiple students to the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee, both of these issues remain a sore spot for many students. Despite their efforts, parking rates are set to increase almost across the board and the increased cost of Sugar Land Shuttle permits left many frustrated.

Of course, none of these issues are directly the fault of Szell or his vice president. As Szell pointed out during the debate, the current Students Unite party is composed of new senators who would theoretically take a different approach to problem solving than the 60th administration. But if they want to be elected off the strength of their previous accomplishments, it would be fair to evaluate them based off of their failures too.

At one point, Szell talked about his party’s work with the Student Fees Advisory Committee, who recently clashed with UH President Renu Khator after she rejected the committee’s recommendations. While Students Unite’s support for a deeply crucial issue is valuable, Szell was unable to name more than one organization funded by SFAC when he was asked by the debate moderators.

Arriaga also faltered when asked about SFAC, and was unable to name how many students SGA appoints to the committee. He also mentioned a desire to lower parking costs by reallocating them to student fees, which runs the risk of increasing costs for every student over time, including students without parking permits.

Throughout the night, Szell leaned on an impressive resume but failed to present much in the way of new ideas, while Arriaga’s solutions to major issues seemed poorly fleshed-out at best. These critiques are not just small nitpicks meant to belittle candidates for no reason.

Both presidential candidates are clearly trying their best to represent a diverse student body under extremely difficult circumstances. It takes a lot of strength to stand on stage and try to convince students you have their best interests at heart, and that should be commended. But if these issues are not addressed carefully and strategically, the student body runs the risk of having yet another administration that’s all talk and no action.

At the end of the day, Coogs deserve a student body president that represents them and will lead them through tough times. Both Arriaga and Szell have the potential to become the leader this student body needs. But if they really want to serve us well, they need to make sure they’re bringing their best.

Malachi Key is a Journalism senior who can be reached at [email protected].

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