Justin Zatkoff’s 20th birthday celebration Saturday included more than presents and cake.
The LSA junior was elected chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans by a vote of 118 to 64.
“I missed the moment that the official numbers came in,” Zatkoff said. “I was running around because all my friends were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. It was very exciting.”
The Michigan Federation of College Republicans is an umbrella organization for the College Republican chapters at universities around the state.
Zatkoff said he thinks his election will change the University’s political climate.
“We are going to reinvigorate the College Republicans here on campus,” he said. “Hopefully, we will get presidential candidates to come speak at the University.”
Zatkoff, who previously served as executive director, said he has a lot of work to do now that he has been elected chairman. He said his first goal is to eliminate infighting within the College Republicans.
“I have quite a job ahead of me,” Zatkoff said. “The College Republicans are extremely divided.”
He said these divisions stem from disagreements over which candidate the group should support in next year’s presidential primary.
Yesterday, Zatkoff endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain for president in a press release.
Zatkoff received criticism for his choice to back McCain from many of the people that backed Zatkoff’s opponent, Michigan State University student Steve Japinga.
“Several of (Japinga’s) backers, who are Romney supporters, don’t like me,” Zatkoff said. “There is always drama in elections.”
But Zatkoff encouraged members of the College Republicans to support the candidate of their choosing. He said his main priority is helping elect a Republican president in the 2008 election.
Japinga said that he wants to help Zatkoff achieve his goals now that the election is over.
“The truth of the matter is that Justin has a tough time in front of him,” Japinga said. “He has to unite both sides of the College Republicans, and I am willing to help him with this.”
Zatkoff has made headlines before.
In September, Zatkoff, then a student at Oakland University, was admitted to the hospital after a fistfight at a party.
The attack triggered speculation and political finger pointing. The blog College Republican Truth Caucus posted pictures of a swollen-eyed Zatkoff along with the headline “Hate Crime: College Republican Allegedly Beaten by Liberal Thugs.”
But police reported that Zatkoff’s black eye was a result of a fight with a high school friend.
Zatkoff said he hopes to create a stronger network of conservative student groups at the University. He said he would like to appoint LSA sophomore Andrew Boyd, co-chair of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, to be the executive director of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans.
Zatkoff, who is a member of YAF, participated in a confrontation between pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary and YAF this fall. He claimed that a BAMN member punched him in the chin during the protest.
“I hope YAF and the College Republicans can start to work more closely together,” Zatkoff said.
Boyd said he anticipates more Democratic activism to oppose what he perceives as a strengthened conservative voice on campus.
“We’ll butt heads a bit more,” Boyd said. “The liberals are really going to have to be on their toes if they want to keep up with us.”
College Democrats Chair Sam Harper said that campus Republicans might be louder next year, but he said students are more likely to agree with College Democrats’ stances on issues like Proposal 2, the environment and the Iraq War.
Zatkoff said he plans to run for the chairmanship of the federation again next spring so he can remain in the position until the presidential election ends. After the 2008 election, he said he isn’t sure what he wants to do next.
“Maybe I’ll even run for president myself,” Zatkoff said. “The opportunities are endless.”