SGA elections offer glimpse into changing climate of campus politics

Patrick Crowley

Last spring, during the yearly SGA fervor, I wrote two columns that deserve to be rehashed. The first addressed how the SGA must save itself from irrelevance. The second, more importantly, addressed that even if the Machine still won’t learn, the student body surely can. The former is true: this year’s SGA has successfully rebranded itself. The SGA by any measure has greatly improved its standing amongst students and reasserted its relevancy on this campus. The latter, however, is up 
for debate.

Elliot Spiller’s victory is the first by an independent candidate in 30 years and he will be the second black SGA President behind Cleo Thomas in 1976. History was certainly made. Campus should be thrilled someone as deserving and humble as Elliot Spiller will be the University’s new SGA President. He will surely do many great things for campus 
next year.

But campus should not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The Machine still won, at least five out of seven executive positions. Besides the executive positions, the Machine had tremendous success in Senate elections and judicial appointments. In the century old history of the Machine, it doesn’t lose many elections nor positions in the SGA. University professor emeritus Bill Stewart summarizes this well, as he said “Elections lost by the Machine are very few and far between.” (Even Elliot Spillers had to take two shots against the same candidate, Stephen Keller, for him to win.) So independent students may have won one election with a ridiculously strong candidate, but their record of competing against the Machine in a variety of campus elections on a year to year basis 
is abysmal.

Furthermore, the Machine’s history of influence outside the tiny sphere of campus is downright impressive. It has influenced the election results of gubernatorial elections, Congressional races and state and county offices. Last year, for example, the Machine voted en masse for Lee Garrison and Cason Kirby, two former SGA Presidents, to be elected to the City of Tuscaloosa’s Board of Education. I’m not 
trying to sound crass, but be honest with yourself about the importance of the University’s SGA in comparison to an actual Board of Education that governs the education of 10,065 Tuscaloosa children in primary education. For the Machine, the SGA elections are just a practice scrimmage, a prelude to elections that carry more significance 
and influence.

In comparison to previous SGA elections, this year’s elections were timid. The Machine did not threaten harassment or personal violence toward any candidates (in 1992 they kicked down the door of Minda Riley, daughter of former Alabama governor Bob Riley, and beat her around), nor did they ostracize sororities or fraternities that did not march with their orders to the extent they could have. Although they may have lost one, maybe two, elections this year, they did not receive any negative press that diminishes their prospects for 
the future.

Some might argue the Machine’s future is waning because of the growing out-of-state campus population and the increasing diversity of thought in every new freshman class. Leadership,
however, comes in all forms and from all backgrounds and not one area of campus has a monopoly on producing capable leaders. The Greek system is one of many aspects of campus that attract excellent students. It is just better than the rest of campus at propelling students to positions of power and into select organizations on campus. Ultimately, only time will tell how our University’s changing demographics will alter the dynamics 
on campus.

For now, I must admit that a year removed from one of my columns, I was wrong about the Machine being incapable of learning. They are more than capable of adapting to the present while not losing sight of the future. The question, then, becomes can independent students muster the political capital and nominate candidates to compete against the Machine on a year to year basis?

Patrick Crowley is a senior majoring in 
mathematics, economics and finance. He is the Opinions Editor of The 
Crimson White.