Last week, Student Government Association (SGA) presidential candidate Katie Brust announced Tallon Everson as her new running mate. At Tuesday’s meeting, SGA officially announced another candidate, Carissa Occhipinto, has a new running mate, Shelby Specht.
Occhipinto replaced former running mate Blake Brown with Specht after Brown elected to step down from the position of vice president in Occhipinto’s campaign.
“(Brown) ultimately decided that he would rather take a more background approach to helping fix SGA, and so I decided to move forward. He’s still involved and helping out,” Occhipinto said. “He is very passionate about helping USD and SGA as a whole.”
When the Brust-Weightman campaign split last week, SGA’s election steering committee voted to allow Erin Weightman, Brust’s former running mate, to decide if she would allow Brust to keep the petition signatures the pair had collected. Weightman refused, forcing Brust to re-collect signatures.
Kevin Huizenga, chair of the committee, explained the board’s decision was made in the interest of fairness to both candidates.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to the candidate looking to withdraw that they be forced to finish a race, but it’s also not fair to the candidate left in the race to be forced to withdraw entirely based on the other candidate backing out,” Huizenga said. “Our committee decided we wanted to try to create the most fair decision without overstepping our boundaries as an advisory board. We wanted to, in the sense of fairness, allow them to decide the most correct course of action for them.”
Despite the committee’s decision, Brust obtained the signatures needed to complete her petition. Although she has a new running mate, she said her strategy won’t change.
“My campaign is staying exactly the same. Being able to obtain those signatures was very important to Tallon and I,” Brust said. “We also want to thank the election steering committee for allowing us to continue our campaign.”
The Tuesday meeting also included Huizinga reading two students’ letters to the body. The letters openly criticized SGA’s policies, claiming Charlie’s Cupboard decreases the impact of preexisting food pantries.
The letters also suggested SGA dislikes veterans due to their handling of the previous Patriots Plaza bill, as well as accusing SGA delegates of being more concerned about undercutting one another than representing their constituents.
SGA president Carson Zubke defended Charlie’s Cupboard and said the initiative was endorsed by members of the Vermillion community.
“I hear the concerns. I hear the complaints, but we had community partners come to SGA to endorse Charlie’s Cupboard and their support of it,” Zubke said. “Conversations are ongoing with Vermillion food pantry, Tanager Takeout and other universities so that we can make sure we’re not stepping on anybody’s toes. This is something we should be very proud of.”
Brust said she understood why students might have concerns about SGA.
“I think that everything that was read in the letters is exactly what I’ve been observing in the Senate,” Brust said. “I’m really hoping the person in the office next will take steps to make sure this environment is remedied and less toxic. We all work better together when we’re happy.”
SGA also voted unanimously to approve the second Patriots Plaza bill at the meeting. SGA will donate five thousand dollars to the project at the time of the bill’s passing and an additional five thousand or ten thousand dollars will be allocated later in the year depending on the amount of money left in SGA’s reserve funds.