Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A Minority of One

Often I have refrained from commenting on student politics at Idaho State University in this medium, but now that I have taken the heat for an article that appeared Sunday in the Idaho State Journal, I don't see an ill in voicing my concerns here.

Prior to being appointed to the ASISU Senate, I had an interview with then ASISU Vice President Will Sharp and two members of the student senate. Among other questions, I was asked what I felt was the significance of the dissenting minority. Fresh in my mind from the night before was an example from the Pocatello City Council of one councilman voting alone, but surely with his conscience. I explained to those in the room when I interviewed that the dissenting voice is essential for a wise majority--my point being that without the dissenting voice, many things would easily pass governing bodies and those who voted yes would never have taken a second to think about and consider why they were voting in favor.

Following that interview I was appointed the Senate and began my campaign for election within the month. I was successfully elected to the ASISU Senate from the College of Arts & Sciences and have now served a total of twelve months. In eleven months I had never encountered a situation where I truly understood the significance of the dissenting minority. It has been this month of service that has opened my eyes to the importance of the dissenting voice.

Eight members of the ASISU Senate voted no on a proposition to expand student recreational facilities here on campus. The proposal to expand Reed Gym came with a price tag of $22 million. The price of this expansion would have been placed solely on the backs of students, increasing their student fees by a minimum of $74 per semester ($74 is generous). Eight senators stepped up and said no. Eight senators were unwilling to waiver in their belief that this project would not increase enrollment at ISU and would not be of benefit to students who would foot the cost. With a vote of 12-8, the Reed Gym expansion was sent to the students as a referendum for their approval. The referendum itself gave very little power to students--meaning it was much the same as the advisory vote Idaho voters had placed in front of them regarding the Idaho Legislature's Special Session and the resulting changes made to property taxes, but unlike the advisory vote, the collective opinion of ASISU has changed regarding the $22 million project as they have seen that the student body (or at least the 14.7% of it that voted) does not support a fee increase of this size for this project. Those eight senators, myself included, were able to expand their dissenting voice and the student's solidly rejected the fee increase.

In contrast, opposition to another ballot measure has a far different history. Included on the referendum was a proposal to ratify and adopt a new constitution for the student association, thereby rejecting and throwing out the document ASISU has been governed by since 1977. When the constitution came to the student senate for a vote of approval, the senators voted heavily in favor of adopting the new constitution and placing it on the ballot for student approval. The vote on this issue was 18-1, with one abstention.

With this issue I found the better illustration of the importance of minority dissent. Perhaps because like the vote on Reed Gym I found myself in the minority, though in this case, I was the only person in the minority. From early summer when the hope of revising the constitution was brought to my attention by the student body president, I was a little hesitant to jump on board with the idea. I never felt as if it were legitimate or ethical to allow the executive branch to author the new document and felt even less comfortable with the senate's consent of this action, but I was the only one. Never in any of the constitutional debates (and I say "debate" loosely, the discussions of the constitution were limited to short periods of senate meetings, individual and casual conversations among members of the Association, and round table discussions with the student body president held on Friday afternoons) did the question come forth regarding the legality of throwing out an entire constitution in favor of a new one--the major problem with this being the referendum, election, or whatever we chose to call the vote, would not be governed by our current, standing constitution. Again, I was the only person who was at all concerned with this.

The question arises as to my role as a representative of the students. Was I elected to represent their interests? If so, none of them were expressing an interest in this constitutional matter. Was I elected to represent my own opinion? I surely hope not and I also hope none of the 155 students who voted for me did so hoping I would represent my own opinion all of the time. Regardless, what do I do if I am not supported in my concerns by any members of the senate or by my own constituents? What do I do about my conscience that is eating me up?

I have had many things in my life outside of my control and many responsibilities extending far beyond my responsibilities as either a student or student leader, all of which have limited the time and energy I can spend on governance issues, so I will freely admit to being largely absent from campus this semester. Time constraints and lack of support largely stifled my concerns and I was not able to facilitate a healthy debate on this issue. Though I may not have been the most vocal in my opposition to the constitution, I was consistent in my votes. I voted against both Reed Gym and the constitutiton. I voted against sending either measure to the students through a referedum. I voted against the dates for which to hold the referendum. I voted against changes to our current by-laws in regard to how elections are handled. I voted against the language presented to the senate for our approval before it was placed on the ballot. I truly feel my voting record speaks volumes to my disappointment with this entire process.

Despite my votes and concerns, both issues were placed on the ballot and went to the students for approval. The only action within my means and rights was to take the issue up with the ASISU Supreme Court. Last week I filed two cases with the Court and now am facing scrutiny from every direction within ASISU. When I look at this I don't see it as a poor timing on my part. I suppose I hoped that senators would come around and realize that it is not within our constitutional duty to pass language for a ballot if it has not been written by a neutral party, namely a member of the Court. I suppose I hoped that senators would see the flaws in the argument of how we could legally ignore our current constitution in effort to pass a new one. I suppose I placed far more hope and faith in the senate as a whole than I should have.

There is a lot to be said for an organization whose most vocal opponent is from within that organization, but there is also a lot to be said for the person who can step up and say, 'hey, this isn't right.' I haven't slept in two nights, am living on Alkaseltzer, and don't know that I have more than three friends left within student government, but I now understand the importance of the dissenting minority. Historically without a dissenting voice many injustices may have been carried out against the American people. In this particular situation, without a dissenting voice there would be no limit to the injustices that can be enacted against a student body through complete ignorance toward the ASISU Constitution.


Chris said...

I'll just go ahead and say this; I cannot wait to cast my vote for you in what ever race you choose to run in sometime in the future.

If anyone wants to see the future of Idaho politics they need not look any further than right here.

Diana Rowe Pauls said...

I was thinking the exact SAME thing as Chris posted above, Tara. I admire your integrity and commitment and passion. I am honored to be able to say that I know you (sort of!) I brag about you to others, you know...

And I really wish I could claim that we were related!!!