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Opinion: SG unbalanced by heavyweight position

Graphic by Rachelle Keller
Graphic by Rachelle Keller*

The Student Government offices on the third floor of the Student Union have been transformed into a boxing ring, complete with SG officials acting like prize fighters.

In one corner, we have SG Senate President Kaitlin Ramirez, preparing to defend herself against what she calls harassment. In the other corner is Student Body President Joseph Turner and SG Attorney General Matthew Harris seemingly going after her branch. Unfortunately for Ramirez, it’s not going to be a fair fight.

While it hasn’t yet come to physical blows, the tension in SG right now is thick in the air– you can feel it in everything they do.  No matter how engrossing the series of events may be, according to your Facebook comments, students are over it.

“Wtf is going on,” asked Ashlee Young in a comment, speaking all our minds as we watched the events unfold.

Heavyweight HarrisGraphic by Zach Evans

In the national government, the job of the U.S. Attorney General is to represent the United States in legal matters and offer advice to the executive departments and agencies.

In SG, the attorney general (AG) is tasked not only with offering legal advice, but with offering binding interpretations of the laws.

Have you ever heard of a lawyer both interpreting the laws and deciding what sets precedent? I know I haven’t.

Who checks these interpretations? That would be you, or me or anyone. We all have the ability to contest the AG’s interpretations with the judicial branch by submitting an appeal or complaint. However, since the AG isn’t compelled in the Constitution to make his interpretations available online in a timely fashion, there are few ways to find out if the AG is making questionable interpretations.


Considering this, coupled with the well-documented student apathy on campus, how is this balancing out his power? Answer: it’s not. Having an executive position with no limits has tangible negative effects.

For example, when a complaint was filed against SG Attorney General Matthew Harris, he dismissed it because of the conflict of interest. Rather than being passed on to another member of SG for consideration, it was dismissed, found of no merit and most likely forgotten. It may be legal, but is it right?

Another example: at Turner’s request, Harris interpreted the Constitution to mean that senate cabinet elections must take place one month after general elections take place. This contradicts precedent, which says those elections occur annually in spring, but precedent seems to be something Harris is only concerned with when it benefits him and his cabinet.

“This looks like an attempt to remove us from our positions,” Ramirez said of the interpretation. “Seems awfully vindictive.”

However, when Harris created a new volunteer position within the executive branch he was not guilty of noncompliance because of existing precedent according to Turner’s email.

He changes the rules to fit his, and by extension, Turner’s agenda. His actions may be legal, but are they right?

“I suppose that is what a lapdog is good for,” as one anonymous senator so aptly put it. Harris does exactly what his master, his puppeteer, his coach, Turner, tells him to do.

While his actions are deplorable, Harris can’t truly be held at fault just for taking advantage of what may be the most powerful position in SG– especially when the only people checking up on his actions are the 16,000 apathetic students who attend the university, who rarely see what he’s doing. And if there are any issues with his actions, Turner swoops to Harris’ defense. Is it right?

Graphic courtesy Gettyimages

Coach Turner

Student Body President Joseph Turner, who says he is so concerned with SG’s transparency, has a history of not being particularly transparent. He has lied and exerted control; he has ignored laws and broken protocol; he turned SG into a boxing ring instead of a place that conducts business.

Turner is out to get the legislative branch, and more specifically, Ramirez. For every noncompliance notice issued against Ramirez, Turner has been behind it, pushing it through via the convenient channel of Harris’ powerful position.


When Ramirez tried to remedy the issue by clarifying and changing the law she is accused of violating, Turner vetoed the bill, despite the Senate passing it unanimously and it being exactly what the judiciary told her to do to fix it.

When Ramirez tried to call out their vindictive actions by motioning to impeach Harris, Turner was enraged, and spoke out. He referred to Ramirez and Harris by their first names, giving his speech an air of reprimanding children for doing something wrong. He tried putting the entire Senate in its place by telling senators what their job is. He called Ramirez’s motion “inappropriate,” “ridiculous” and shameful. He left the meeting, interrupting Ramirez as she tried to see if it was ended constitutionally, and called the night’s events “bullsh–.”

That doesn’t sound like a professional to me, but a coach who is mad that some of his players aren’t doing what he wanted them to. Is it right?

Fortunately for Turner, he has his secret weapon: the attorney general, the untouchable member of his cabinet who can do whatever he asks. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for Ramirez.

Underdog RamirezGraphic by Zach Evans

SG Senate President Kaitlin Ramirez has been turned into a message for everyone in Student Government: don’t mess with the executive branch, or this is what will happen.


When Harris filed a complaint against Ramirez, no one in SG had a problem with it. And their complaints were pretty valid– she didn’t do what she should have done. However, when Ramirez responded with valid complaints of her own, of well-documented instances of her colleagues not complying with the law, Harris found four complaints of no merit and they were dismissed. Is this right?

While normally the picture of professionalism, Ramirez has lost her composure with this series of events just like Turner. But what would you do in her situation? She seems to have every fact, every section of the Constitution, on her side. Nonetheless, Turner and Harris tear her down in clash after clash where they use Harris’ position and a healthy dose of bullying to solidify their position of power and diminish hers. How would you be handling that?

Graphic courtesy Gettyimages

Adult Supervision

Like any student organization, SG has faculty advisors who are tasked with overseeing and advising the students in their department. The professional staff should be there to help them conduct the business that needs to be done, and make sure that the mistakes they’re making aren’t too big.

They seem to be failing right now, because members of SG are making detrimental mistakes the advisors apparently don’t care about, and are embarrassing the rest of the students that attend the university. Unfortunately, professional staff members refuse to talk to Spinnaker about their role in the recent events.


“Celeste, Vicki and I are unavailable for any interviews with the Spinnaker at this time,” said Michael McGuire, director of Student Government, on behalf of the professional staff in an email sent Nov. 20.

In fact, Victoria “Vicki” Shore, Student Government advisor, refused to answer a specific question about if SG staff members discussed the noncompliances with students. She referred the Spinnaker to records we requested, which expressed that she wasn’t going to respond to our question.

With members of SG acting like children, it’s time for the staff members to step in and offer some guidance on how to navigate the world as adults, not sit back and watch while they try to knock each other out.

Graphic courtesy Gettyimages

Students Losing Out

It comes down to you, the student. Your “elected” officials are behaving like toddlers, unable to compromise or stop fighting in order to actually conduct any governmental business. Senators are too focused on choosing a side in their office’s brawl rather than focusing on enriching students’ experiences. When a government stops serving its people, what is its purpose?

The unevenness in SG is making the entire government ineffective. It’s time to make some drastic changes, because currently SG has been reduced to a group of kids loudly making a scene, much to the embarrassment of the students they supposedly serve.

There are ways this can be fixed. The duties assigned to the AG could be redistributed throughout SG, so one single person or branch doesn’t hold all that power. More checks and balances could be added to make sure that someone is monitoring the interpretations made by the AG. Or the AG position could be removed from the executive cabinet entirely. Any of these solutions would be a step in the right direction, because it’s obvious that the current laws are not working.

Additionally, all students have the option to write a bill, contact their senators, speak at senate meetings and challenge actions of SG that they disagree with. The next senate meeting is on Monday, Nov. 24, at 6:30 p.m. In light of SG’s recent behavior, it looks like it’s up to us to actually change the laws that are currently working to our detriment.

What’s currently legal is not what’s right, as we can see from the interactions between Harris, Turner and Ramirez. The fight between them is bloody and unfair–no one will come out unscathed. You may as well grab a beer and some snacks. The fight has just begun.

*11/24/14  at 1:55 p.m.- Updated with boxing graphic.

Email Cassidy Alexander at [email protected]

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