Voter turnout for this fall’s Michigan Student Assembly elections was the lowest it has been in years, the assembly spent $20,000 on a concert and many students seem completely indifferent, say a couple students trying to turn things around.
In an effort to revitalize student government and increase student interest, LSA junior Walter Nowinski and LSA sophomore Travis Radina are each forming new parties to contend with the currently dominant Students 4 Michigan Party and the Defend Affirmative Action Party in April’s MSA presidential elections.
Nowinski, a former member of MSA’s Budget Priorities Committee, is forming the Michigan Progressive Party and planning to run on a platform based on “better housing and better classes.” The “better housing” end of the platform entails the maintenance of better MSA relations with the city in order to have an influence on housing issues, including lease dates and parking restrictions.
“MSA has a tremendous amount of lobbying power to change these things,” he said.
The “better classes” part of the platform will include an effort to improve MSA’s Advice Online system. These changes would allow students to learn the caliber of courses as determined through data collected from student surveys, Nowinski said.
With its entire executive committee already assembled and its platform almost entirely formulated, MPP is well on its way to developing a full slate for the April 2006 MSA elections.
Radina, a member of the College Democrats, is forming the Michigan Students for Progress Party. The party is still in the works, with only a handful of students involved in its development, but Radina plans to field candidates for every position in this April’s elections.
Radina and Nowinski have spoken with one another, and they said there is a possibility that the two parties will combine for the April elections.
Radina said he supports the University’s use of affirmative action in admissions but would also like to explore the possibility of “economically, rather than racially based policies.” Nowinski also said he supports affirmative action, but he said he does not hope to make this a major campaign issue. Reconciliation of the platforms would be vital before the parties could combine, he said.
Both Nowinski and Radina said they believe the loss of interest in student government can be attributed to the poor performance of the dominant Students 4 Michigan, which they said results from of a lack of accountability coupled with an absence of direction.
LSA senior Max Milstein said it seems MSA doesn’t do much to help students and that “when they do actually do something, it doesn’t seem to work that well.”
Nowinski and Radina both said they hope to improve MSA’s credibility either by taking a significant slice of S4M’s majority or by putting pressure on S4M to accomplish party goals.
DAAP, which has close ties with the controversial pro-affirmative action group BAMN, is considered a single-issue party and holds only four A-A-A-A- seats on the assembly. “S4M has been dominating for too long,” Radina said. “No party has been stepping up to challenge them, and so there is no way of holding (S4M) accountable for bad choices.”
“(MSA) no longer has respect around campus because they aren’t as serious as they should be,” Radina said, recalling current MSA President Jesse Levine’s campaign flyer featuring a picture of “Uncle Jesse,” a character from the popular ’90s sitcom “Full House.” Radina said he believes S4M needs “to be more serious in order to make MSA a more respectable campus organization again.”
S4M was started last winter by former members of the now-defunct Students First Party, which was the dominant MSA party when it was dissolved. Like Students First, S4M aims to include representatives of a diverse array of campus groups and communities. The party does not have a strict ideology, but includes members of liberal as well as conservative groups.
Nowinski said the biggest problem with S4M lies in the fact that “S4M doesn’t have a platform – as a group, it doesn’t stand for anything specific.”
“It doesn’t have a clear vision,” he said. “It stands for being elected.”
Both Nowinski and Radina said they hope to avoid this issue in their own parties by forming distinct party platforms.
Although officially nonpartisan now, MSA President Jesse Levine said he previously chose to be a part of S4M because the party is composed of many “student leaders who represented many different ideologies but who all had the common goal of making campus better.”
“We don’t need parties with strict ideological divisions,” Levine said. “Students need leaders that will represent them well.”
As far as student interest is concerned, Milstein, the LSA senior who was skeptical about MSA, said: “If you add new parties with new ideas that are interested in connecting with students, it will help.”
Clark Ruper, an LSA sophomore and vice chair of Young Americans for Freedom, has also expressed interest in forming a new party. The Abolish MSA Spending Party would run on the platform of “decreasing funding and controlling spending with the end goal of eliminating MSA discretionary spending,” Ruper wrote in a letter to the Daily. Ruper could not be reached for comment.