SGA hosts presidential debate

The presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Student Government Association are running under two divergent platforms, Benson-Funke claiming they will “Continue Excellence,” and Marion-Gray running under the “Improve2014” banner. The implications of their platforms were brought to light during Monday’s debate in the Gävle room, which was moderated by the Observer’s Editor-in-Chief, Megan Boedecker.
Richard Benson humbly opened up and made the audience aware of his platform, saying “Megan (Funke) and I do not want next year to be another three terms of transition and major change for SGA. Let’s develop on our achievements and strengthen our weaknesses.” Benson added that if he was elected he would “maintain relationships (with administration)” and help to “shape new policy”.
Once Benson finished speaking, it was Marion-Burton’s turn to establish his presence in the room. He did so in a more emotional manner, proclaiming, “This is not about what I have done; this is about what I am going to do for each and every one of you.”
Contrary to Benson’s idea of continuing on past trends, Marion-Burton believes in being focused on the future of Augustana students. He emphasized “this is your (students’) choice,” urging people to make an informed decision and vote for who they thought was the best option.
Benson and Marion-Burton essentially represent conservative and progressive strategies, respectively, one wanting to continue current trends, the other demanding more change.
This type of partisan debate continued into the first part of the debate, which was filled with general questions that were directed at each candidate. Topics covered all pressing issues on campus including Greek life, marijuana reform, transitional living arrangements, administration relationships, fund appropriations, multicultural advancement, residential life and symposium day.
When talks of monetary appropriations were brought up, the debate’s tone swiftly changed. The senate had a $60,000 budget this year, in which some of its expenditures were heavily questioned. Some of these decisions were made while Benson was the interim president.
During his response to the question of how he would manage thousands of dollars at his disposal, Benson responded, “It is the senate who votes on the contingency requests. The president only has the chance to veto if funding is passed. So, advising the senators to better review the constitution.”
Marion-Burton retorted by listing one of his main planned expenditures, expansion of the multicultural council. Toward the end of his response, he reiterated “As president, making sure that I am ready to veto any decision that the senate makes, unlike what happened this year when Richie was the interim president and he spent $33,000 slip out of his contingency in one term.”
Because Benson was mentioned directly, he received a 30 second rebuttal to defend himself. In his response, Benson stated “Winter term is where we get the bulk of our spring break contingencies, which took up a large portion of that $33,000.” He added “I did not think it was my chance to veto.”
This was the first and final use of the rebuttal clause of the debate. After the general portion came questions that were intended specifically for each candidate.
Benson was questioned about his interim term as president and how he would engage the non-greek members at Augustana. Marion-Burton was questioned on how he would handle the responsibility that comes with being president. In addition, both were asked to explain their slogans and biggest failure since joining SGA, to which both responded swiftly.
The debate wrapped up after candidates fielded questions from the audience, as well as The Observer‘s live twitter feed. Fourty-five minutes of debate finished, and after each candidate had spoken their peace, the debate ended.
Voting will be held March 31 and April 1 in the CSL. The debate is available on The Observer website at augustanaobserver.com and post-debate interviews will be up soon.