No challengers: One-sided Ohio State election a rarity
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02
For the first time in almost 50 years, an Undergraduate Student Government presidential candidate is running unopposed. For the first time in about 10 years, Ohio State students are expected to elect a two-term president.
USG President Taylor Stepp, a third-year in public affairs from Jackson, Ohio, is the only presidential candidate slated to be on the ballot when students can start casting their vote on Feb. 27. That hasn’t occurred since 1966.
But 50 years ago when Tim Neustadt ran as the only presidential candidate for Student Senate, which would become USG, things were different. USG was controlled by two political parties, the more conservative Buckeye Political Party and the liberal Student Congress Party, and the election wasn’t really unopposed.
In 1966 Neustadt, a junior at the time, wasn’t running against a candidate, he was running against the Free Student Federation referendum put forth by the Student Congress Party, calling for the abolition of the Senate.
Student government was at a crossroads.
The polarization of students was a direct reflection of the ongoing war in Vietnam, said Neustadt, now 67 and living in Los Angeles.
“The war was very real to the average student,” he said in an interview with The Lantern. “It was the ‘60s, everything was being challenged … it was very alive.”
With the threat of being sent to war if men didn’t perform well in school, Neustadt described the vibe on campus as tense at times.
“Nobody trusted anybody, nothing was the same as it traditionally was,” he said. “The campus wasn’t all about football and fraternities and dating and getting out in four years and entering the real world.”
If you weren’t in school, you were going to the military. You were going to war, he said.
According to The Lantern archives, 4,814 votes were cast for the Free Student Federation referendum, but it wasn’t enough to disband Student Senate as the Student Congress Party had wanted.
With Neustadt’s presidency secured, student body leadership was on a path for change.
More than 10,500 students voted in the 1966 Student Senate election, which, according to a 1966 Lantern article, set a voter turnout record that has only been topped once, with more than 13,000 voting in the 1972 election, according to data on past USG elections.
When Stepp ran against three other candidates for president in the 2012 USG election, turnout was at its highest since 1975 with 8,279 ballots cast.
Stepp said running unopposed gives him the opportunity to focus on doing his job without getting caught up in the election, but Neustadt said it isn’t the best circumstance for the university.
“The good news is he’s going to win, the bad news is he’s going to have to look at himself and say, ‘What did I earn?”’ Neustadt said.
The question could pose a challenge for the incumbent.
“He’s going to have an easier election than I did, but he may have a harder term. I sure knew where people stood,” he said. “Apathy is tough.”
Eddie Pauline, who was elected as USG president in 2001 and 2002, is the last person to hold the USG presidency for two terms. Pauline returned to the university more than three years ago and works as the director of the Buckeye Leadership Fellows Program, a Student Life-run program.
While Pauline was “thrilled” to see Stepp have the opportunity to run for re-election, he said he was disappointed to see that no other candidates chose to run.
“I’m shocked no one was interested in running,” he said.
As a two-term president, Pauline said Stepp’s familiarity with campus operations will allow him to accomplish more during his second term because there won’t be the learning curve that comes with presidential turnover.
“You can really focus on policy and making the changes you want to make,” he said.
According to past election results, there have been four two-term USG presidents, including Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who was elected in 1998 and 1999. Mandel ran against Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown for a U.S. Senate seat last November, but lost to the incumbent.
In a Wednesday interview with The Lantern, Mandel called Stepp a “strong leader with compassion and intelligence,” and had some advice for the candidate.
“Always do the next right thing, regardless of political pressure, regardless of media pressure. Just do right,” Mandel said.
The lack of interest or follow through with candidacy, Pauline said, could be detrimental to USG’s future and student wellbeing.
“My concern is that if students aren’t running this year, will the trend continue?” he said. “You can either look at it as a vote of confidence or an engagement issue.”
Former USG presidential candidate Niraj Antani prefers the first option.