In the third and final week of what is now a month-long campaign, SGA presidential and vice presidential candidates will go head to head in the Bear Rock Cafe at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3.
Sophomore Mollie Davis and her vice presidential pick junior Joshua Lovett will try to best sophomore Dalton Turner and his vice presidential pick junior Justin Robinson as they answer questions from the audience. Current SGA president Jordan Locke will monitor the event.
The Cluster will provide minute-by-minute updates from the debate here.
Tables at the Bear Rock Cafe are full as students fill out question cards and prepare to watch the debate. The candidates have taken the stage.
Locke announces that the debate will begin in a few minutes as students are still trickling in.
Turner and Robinson give their opening statements. Turner said “the reason we’re running is because we’re so passionate about the school.” Turner says he wants to foster school spirit and foster the same love of Mercer that he and Robinson share.
Davis and Lovett give their opening statement.
Davis says “I want to run for this position because I love Mercer. I am passionate about the opportunities I have sought out for the student body…I don’t want this position because I want to be something. I want this position because I want to do something for Mercer.” Lovett emphasizes that they are not running for themselves, but for Mercer students as a whole. “A vote for us, is a vote for what Mercer needs and deserves.”
First question from Locke: what issue on your platform are you most passionate about and why?
Robinson said the most important platform is transforming the Bear Rock Cafe into a viable “hang out” place for student. Turner said his important issue differs from Robinson’s, which he believes makes them a good team. Turner said his most important issue is increasing student excitement and participation in athletics.
Davis said she is most passionate about where Mercer will be one year from today. She said she wants to see students having jobs in Macon and attending athletic games, adding a quip about wet tailgating. “They can have a beer at the game like an adult,” she said. She said she wants to emphasize that Mercer is not a destination, but something to participate it. Lovett said “our platform is a holistic approach to changing student life here.”
Locke asks Turner and Robinson how they will increase green initiatives and recycling on campus and how this will benefit the university.
Robinson responded that they are setting up an incentive program where recycling will be turned into something tangible for students. Turner believes that when students see other students involved in recycling, they will want to become involved themselves. Turner mentioned that they have worked with Physical Plant to bring a nationwide program calling Recycle Mania to Mercer.
Davis and Lovett answer the same question.
Lovett says that they have spoken with Physical Plant and see that Mercer is recycling, but we need to increase resources. Lovett says their ticket wants to support the efforts that are already working.
Turner responds that we should always push for more, and he believes the incentive program will help. “We’re not going to stay here. We’re going to try to push it to the next level,” he said.
Locke asks Davis and Lovett how their initiative for wet game days in designated areas will improve student pride and spirit.
Davis responds that they have polled students, and the result of the polls shows that a designated tailgating area at designated games appeals to students. Davis said her research has showed that students do not want a wet campus. “I think that this would definitely increase attendance at athletic games,” she said. Davis said she feels this initiative will draw alumni and community members to games. She also said it will cut down dangers like drunk driving that happen when drinking is done in an uncontrolled and hidden environment. She said she has spoken with Chief Collins and Dean Pearson, who are excited about the idea.
Turner and Robinson rebutt.
Turner pointed out considerations that need to be taken for a wet campus. He brought up polls that have been done that show that 40 percent of students do not want to have a drink at a party. He also said that he believes alcohol on campus can cause a problem with the beautification of campus. “We have more important things to focus on,” she said.
Davis responded that the poll results Turner mentioned were from 2009, and 58 percent of the students she has polled were in favor of the initiative.
Locke asked each vice presidential pick what qualities he has to compliment his running mate.
Lovett responded that he and Mollie are great friends and that they share a passion for making Mercer better. They see each other every day, he said. “I think my girlfriend might be a little jealous of that at times,” he quipped, to much laughter from the audience.
Robinson said that he and Turner are both heavily involved on campus and cited his experience as a Residence Assistant as helping him understand students, particularly freshmen. He said that he and Turner both want to listen to students. They will attempt to get suggestion boxes back, he said.
Locke asks Turner about his and Robinson’s proposed volunteer committee for SGA. Why should SGA oversee this?
Turner responds that SGA would provide a forum for such a group and allow SGA to use its resources to help. He pointed out that Macon is the 7th poorest city in the United States, and he wants SGA to get involved in helping the community and increasing volunteering and awareness of volunteering. “SGA would get no credit for this, we wouldn’t be overarching for this, we just want to help the students out,” he said.
Davis responded that “the last thing grassroots movements need is more SGA red tape.” Davis said she has spoken with Chelsea Flieger, president of L.E.A.P., who said that her organization flourishes better without SGA interference. Davis said her platform includes helping students get jobs in Macon, which will benefit Macon in the long run, both economically and socially.
Turner said he has also spoken with Chelsea Flieger. She is worried about L.E.A.P. specifically, he said. Turner said programs for jobs outside of Macon would not benefit freshmen and sophomores as much as juniors and seniors.
Locke asks Davis why getting jobs in the Macon community is important and why it is SGA’s responsibility.
Davis answered that it has not traditionally been SGA’s responsibility, but she thinks it is important. She said she has spoken with the mayor about this and believes it is feasible. “Macon needs Mercer students,” she said. It is not an overreach of SGA’s power, she said.
Robinson responded that SGA should continue to strengthen its Macon connection, but that it can be done through their proposed volunteer programs. He wants to continue to expand programs like Taste of Downtown to include more downtown establishments.
Lovett responded that their liason relationship would also open up service learning opportunities. He mentioned that he has spoken to Stephen Brown from Career Services, and Brown is very excited about the idea.
Locke asks a question to both parties that will have no rebuttal. He asks each ticket to give details of their plans to increase athletic participation on campus. Specifically, why will Turner’s grassroots program work, and why will Davis’ incentive program work?
Turner answered that giving out a T-Shirt is not sustainable. He said he wants to get athletes to reach out to students more so students will want to come see them play. “Having passion for a T-shirt is fine, but we want people to have passion for Mercer,” he said.
Davis said that she believes incentives are good. She is a business major, she said, and incentives are business. She also asked why students would respond well to incentives for recycling but not to incentives for games. She said they are basing their incentives program off programs in place at other universities like Kennesaw State University, where it has been successful. She explained that the program will be sponsored. Lovett pointed out that their “spirit theme days” will be grassroots-centered to get students involved in athletics. Davis said she believes dorm storming from athletes is a great idea, but she is also aware that dorm storming is annoying.
Locke asks each ticket how their previous SGA experience has best prepared them to serve in the positions they are vying form.
Davis answered that she was on the Heritage Life committee, which plans the Christmas Tree Lighting and Pilgrimage to Penfield. She faltered when attempting to name the amount of the committee’s budget, forgetting whether it was $70,000 or $80,000. She said due to her involvement with this committee she is very visible to students, and she cited her passion for the student body again as more important than her involvement. Lovett agreed that his passion for the student body is more important than his experience, although he has served on SGA for two years.
Robinson answered that he is the former PR and Elections chair. This is his first year on SGA, but he said he has learned to take in information and really listen to his constituents. Davis answered that he has served for two years and is currently sophomore class president and chair of the Macon Connections committee. Turner complimented Davis’ work on Heritage Life but also said that his experience on Macon Connections allows him to create and expand new events rather than just continuing existing ones. He mentioned again that he has experience listening to constituents. “It’s great to have a great plan, but it takes great leaders to implement that plan.”
Locke opens up for audience questions. The first question was directed to Davis and asked her why she feels Turner decided to hold a pep rally and what purpose it served.
Davis responded that she has asked herself that same question “particularly when I was trying to take a test, and my phone was blowing up with people asking me where my band was.” She said she feels some people run for their own purposes and on their own popularity, and that she is not doing that. All her events are geared towards helping students understand her platform, she said. “I think you would have to ask Dalton why he had a pep rally,” she said, “but if you come to our events like Margaritas with Mollie on Thursday I think you’ll see why we don’t have to have events like that to campaign for ourselves.”
Turner quipped “Margaritas with Mollie” and smirked. He responded that he had the pep rally because it fits with his theme of spirit of Mercer. He said that he is hurt by the implication that he is running for himself. He said he has spent too much time listening to students for that to be true. “We’re not worried about alcohol,” he said. “We’re worried about volunteerism.” They had the pep rally, he said, to form a connection with Macon and to make students excited about coming to Mercer and “give them something to dance about.”
Locke asks a question from Branden Ryan, currently studying abroad in Hong Kong and visiting Malaysia. The question concerns how to increase transparency in SGA.
Turner answered that he will provide suggestion boxes again and wants to hold SGA in a more open space where students can see what is going on. He wants SGA members to go to student organization meetings to increase their presence.
Lovett answered that their campaign directly addresses this idea. He wants to match students to committees by their interests or majors because the SGA bylaws state that non-elected students can serve on SGA committees. Lovett faltered, and Davis took over, stating that she believes involvement in SGA will help SGA do their job better as it will help them see what their constituents want. She mentioned the recent Cluster controversy and said she thinks if nothing else it shows that students are becoming aware of SGA. She wants SGA to be freed from “past traditions” and “former senator’s goals” nd have SGA be a fluid body.
Locke asks each ticket if they think the recent legislation that extends the campaign time was a good idea.
Davis answered that she has been able to meet more people as a result of the legislation. She called herself an “underdog” and said she is not as popular as Dalton, so she is glad that she got a chance to get her name out there. “This is different from Homecoming Court,” she said.
Turner answered that his running mate sponsored the legislation and that, although a longer campaign is tough, he believes it is good. “It’s been great, it’s been a long haul,” he said. Turner said his approach is different from Davis and Lovett…more grassroots and less focused on “flashy” things like “getting people to come get margaritas.” Turner said students are seeing what SGA can do as a result of this. He said the platforms are different, but they speak to themselves.
Both candidates joked that they don’t know if they can do three weeks again. “I usually cry sometimes [after a sleepless night]” Turner said. Turner said he respects Davis and Lovett for doing this, and he says he wouldn’t work this hard if he didn’t do it. Would he do it again? “Yes, because I love Mercer,” he said.
Locke asked a question to both tickets about whether campus safety is an important issue.
Robinson answered that safety is a concern that will never go away. “It’s not something I think we can back off of at all,” he said. He mentioned increasing lighting, especially with expansion of residence halls. He wants to boost up presence of officers on campus. Turner mentioned that he was on the campus improvement committee last year, and he said that Mercer Police has amped up its efforts. He said he wants students to be knowledgeable about interactions with potentially dangerous locals and how best to handle them.
Lovett said their ticket has also spoken with Chief Collins about these issues. He said Mercer Police is on board to help and added that he wants to bring back the Monthly Crime Statistics report. Davis pointed out that her ticket surveyed students today and found that the number one issue is blue light phones and more lights on campus. “We think that’s a great thing for SGA to do because it’s what the students want,” she said.
Locke asked a question about what each candidate would do if they were in the position of Locke when he recently asked for Mitchell’s resignation.
Davis said she respects the right to free speech and thinks it is important to not stifle it. She does agree with Locke’s decision, however, and agrees with Mitchell’s decision to step down gracefully. She believes the article was not intended to be spiteful but believes there was unintended harm from it. She said that SGA as a whole has not done the best of working on unity and that everyone could do better about confronting people personally early on and reaching out to new senators. People who don’t get along should meet outside of Senate to create a more cohesive body. Her ticket looks forward to ironing out differences before senate so it doesn’t come out in a “harsh” way. It was an uncomfortable situation for many senators, she said, and she supports president Locke’s decision.
Turner said he supports President Locke’s decision. Turner said you cannot knock the writer of the article for his caring and passion for Mercer students. At the same time, he said, SGA has a duty to students to be welcoming to students and listen to them, and he believes students shouldn’t be put down and think that other members of SGA see them in a negative light. It is really important to acclimate students to SGA, he said. His ticket wants older SGA members to take younger ones under their wings and teach them about passion like that of the article’s author. Turner said the only reason he thinks the article hurt people was that it was personal and made people think SGA was not united. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, he said, and he is glad someone is passionate and trying to make their university great.
Locke asks each ticket what they disagree with the most on their opponent’s platform and why. He asks each candidate not to respond to the other’s answer in their response.
Turner says he disagrees most with the jobs in Macon. He feels it is a great initiative, but he thinks it is designed to just sound good to students. He doesn’t think it is feasible, he said. He said he wants a connection with Macon but thinks that volunteerism is the best way to do it. He thinks that Davis is promising jobs that she cannot deliver to the entire student body.
Davis says on the whole Turner’s ideas are good. The thing she disagrees with the most, however, is that it is unoriginal. “this has been a tenant of almost every SGA president before him,” she said. “Leadership is about changing as fluidly as the student body changes.” Turner’s platform is fine, she said, if it is what students want. She said Turner’s platform lacks original ideas that are changing with the student body.
Each ticket gives their closing remarks.
Davis thanks students for coming and talking with her about ideas she has been “thinking about since November.” She said when she thought of running for SGA she didn’t do it because she thought SGA president would be fun – she did it so she could get the ideas she has done. Finally, she said she realized the best way she could make SGA everything she wants it to be would be to run. “Running for student body president is the best way I can make these things happen for you,” she said. “Regardless of the outcome of this election, I am still going to pursue my goals.” She thanked everyone who has supported her and helped her campaign. She said that she will not pursue an executive position if she loses this election, as she will not be able to serve as a senator on SGA next year.
Robinson said that both he and Turner have “dived into” Mercer. He said he feels like through his involvement he knows what is on the hearts and minds of Mercer students. Turner said the campaign has been tough. He said he and Robinson rally behind one another. It is great to see that students care about their platform, he said. He mentioned the wet campus again, saying that he is not pushing the most “popular” ideas. He said that Mercer is a unique and special place, and he wants to “enhance it through our platform and our students.” He said his ideas are similar because Mercer is founded on great traditions, and he wants to change but stay true to who we are as Mercerians. He and Robinson might not be the greatest debaters, he said, but he will always listen to Mercer students and care about them. “Don’t ever question whether we care or not, because we do,” he said.
Elections take place April 9 – April 13.