Energy Secretary Rick Perry published an oped in the Houston Chronicle Wednesday about the recent election of Bobby Brooks as the first openly gay president of Texas A&M University’s student government. Perry has mischaracterized the facts, attacked our diversity, and most importantly, interfered in the student government election of his alma matter. Perry’s meddling should be cause for concern to all Aggies interested in fair student elections.
To offer some background, the candidate who received the most votes in the initial election, Robert McIntosh, was disqualified after it was discovered that he did not disclose glow sticks used in a campaign video on his campaign finance report. Following subsequent rounds of voting, Brooks fairly won the election.
When I first heard that Perry had criticized the student body election, I laughed. I thought he’d made an off-hand comment about our first openly gay president. Then I realized it was not a comment, but an entire opinion piece. After reading the article, my first thought was, “Why would Rick Perry involve himself in the student body election?” As energy secretary in President Donald Trump’s administration, Perry is responsible for our country’s nuclear infrastructure. I would hope he’d have more pressing concerns than a student election.
In his oped, Perry implies that the only reason McIntosh was disqualified was so that an openly gay candidate could take his spot. He attacks Brooks’s victory as attempt by the student government to promote diversity, rather than his having received the most votes of the candidates.
The problem with Perry’s assertion is very simple: He assumes that the student body knew Brooks was gay before the election. However, Brooks did not publicize that fact in any of his campaign materials. Perry must have believed it was common knowledge that Brooks was gay before the election, and used this as a means to get elected. He didn’t.
Another problem with Perry’s assertion is that the student justices could not have known that McIntosh’s disqualification would result in Brooks’s victory. McIntosh had not won the election outright even before his disqualification, because he didn’t receive a majority of votes in the first count-only 34.7%. Our student government employs a system in which students rank the candidates they prefer, with bottom candidates being eliminated with each round of counting and those votes going to the next highest-ranked candidates. No one could have known beforehand if Brooks or another candidate was ranked second on the disqualified McIntosh ballots.
Perry claimed that equal treatment of all candidates was “mocked in the name of diversity,” saying McIntosh’s disqualification was a disproportionate response to his transgression. However, the response was appropriate given the facts of the case.
McIntosh did not disclose all campaign materials used in his campaign. I’m sure many outside observers would think that not disclosing glow sticks may seem rather trivial. But think of it this way: The maximum limit a campaign can spend on campaign related expenses is $2,000. If the glow sticks had cost $50, that would have accounted for 2.5% of McIntosh’s total allotted expenses. Imagine if Perry had run a $5 million campaign for governor, and $125,000 was unaccounted for. When the cost of the glow sticks is put into perspective, the disqualification does not seem so inappropriate.
Perry lamented that these glow sticks were not different than campaign materials that were used by McIntosh’s opponents, who did not expense said campaign materials. Any investigation that might substantiate his assertion cannot proceed absent a complaint to the Student Judicial Court. It would be a mischaracterization to say that the student justices should have understood this was common practice, when they were unable to investigate other campaigns.
Perry’s charges are all terrible. But what should concern Aggies most is his utter disregard for the independence of a student-run government. He believes that Texas A&M’s Board of Regents should have the last say in all student elections. It is worth noting that seven members of the board were originally appointed by Perry when he was governor.
Every Aggie must ask themselves some questions about our election process. Is it right for Perry to interfere in our election? Would the Board of Regents be following the Aggie Honor Code if they reversed the decision at the behest of a sitting cabinet official? Would Perry had interfered if Brooks had been the one disqualified? Will we let larger political motives tarnish our election?
It saddens me, as it should every Aggie, that our university elections have become a political football, and that the election of an openly gay student president is subject to attack. And it scares me that our student-run government’s decisions could be subject to the whims of powerful politicians.
I’m set to receive my Aggie ring in two weeks. I hope that others will see that ring as a symbol of excellence and inclusiveness, rather than a symbol of divisiveness and political entitlement.
Lucas Fernandez is president of the Texas Aggie Democrats and a junior chemical engineering major at Texas A&M University.