There’s a bit of a kerfuffle over Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s decision to question the Texas A&M student-body presidential election, which resulted in a gay man winning office. Texas Tribune wrote “Former Gov. Perry questions legitimacy of Texas A&M student body election,” while The New York Times asked, “Rigged Election? Dispute at Texas A&M Has Even Rick Perry Chiming In.” CNN breathlessly reported “Rick Perry: Texas A&M student body election was ‘stolen’,” People on Twitter are calling Perry a “bully,” “having nothing else better to do,” and launching an “attack” on a gay student.”
Here are the facts as to what happened (and the press got it partially right). Perry did write an op-ed in Houston Chronicle where he asked questions about whether the Student Government Association inappropriately awarded the election to Bobby Brooks for the sake of diversity. But those saying Perry is a bigot are wrong. From the ex-governor’s op-ed:
When I first read that our student body had elected an openly gay man, Bobby Brooks, for president of the student body, I viewed it as a testament to the Aggie character. I was proud of our students because the election appeared to demonstrate a commitment to treating every student equally, judging on character rather than on personal characteristics.
This certainly doesn’t sound like some “old, straight, white guy,” furiously shaking his fist at the fact a gay man was elected president. In fact, Perry praised it, until he found out more information about what led to Brooks winning.
Here are the facts: Six hours after the election polls closed, the SGA Election Commission received 14 anonymous complaints, accusing [Brooks opponent Robert] McIntosh of voter intimidation. Rather than question McIntosh or conduct an investigation, the Election Commission immediately disqualified McIntosh and declared Brooks the winner. Later, the Commission added a second charge – again from an anonymous complaint – that McIntosh had failed to provide a receipt for glow sticks appearing in a campaign video on Facebook…
Incredibly, it appears that the Board of Regents was never informed.
Upon appeal, McIntosh was cleared of all charges of voter intimidation. None of the complaints were made by students who interacted with McIntosh, and many of the accusers turned out to be supporters of Brooks or his campaign volunteers. In other words, the entire episode that initially disqualified McIntosh was dismissed as a series of dirty campaign tactics.
It certainly doesn’t appear Perry is saying Brooks shouldn’t be SGA president because he’s gay, but is concerned about the electoral process (something Democrats have been whining about over the November presidential election). He’s not the only person who believes dirty tricks may have been involved in getting Brooks elected. Jon Cassidy at Watchdog.org wrote the complaints against McIntosh were “obviously coordinated,” while also pointing out what Perry wrote: McIntosh was cleared of all charges but the one involving glowsticks. Cassidy takes it a step further, and looks at the issues of campaign finance laws and how they can be stretched.
Fortunately for our not unreasonably officious judges, there are two extremely broad passages elsewhere in the rules where the definition for campaign materials is, basically, everything — “Items that have been used in campaigning in any way” and “any items, services or materials used or intended to be used in the course of campaigning or preparing for a campaign.” Your haircut, your iPhone, your outfit, the chair where you first had the idea — all theoretically reportable.
State regulations in this area are slightly better, but not much. These laws always create vast gray areas that disincentivize participation in politics while transferring power to incumbents.
Yet another definition for campaign materials in the rules is “anything distributed or displayed for the purpose of soliciting votes for a candidate.” The video, it’s worth noting, doesn’t include any actual soliciting of votes. But that “distributed or displayed” language is the sort that a grown-up court might seize on in constructing a workable standard.
The only place those glowsticks were displayed is in an online video, so the only potential violation is if online displays are regulated.
Perry agrees that this is an issue.
In its opinion, the Judicial Court admitted that the charges were minor and technical, but, incredibly, chose to uphold the disqualification, with no consideration given to whether the punishment fit the crime. The desire of the electorate is overturned, and thousands of student votes are disqualified because of free glow sticks that appeared for 11 seconds of a months-long campaign. Apparently, glow sticks merit the same punishment as voter intimidation.
He also asks Texas A&M students a very interesting question about diversity.
Now, Brooks’ presidency is being treated as a victory for “diversity.” It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for “diversity” is the real reason the election outcome was overturned. Does the principle of “diversity” override and supersede all other values of our Aggie Honor Code?
Every Aggie ought to ask themselves: How would they act and feel if the victim was different? What if McIntosh had been a minority student instead of a white male? What if Brooks had been the candidate disqualified? Would the administration and the student body have allowed the first gay student body president to be voided for using charity glow sticks? Would the student body have allowed a black student body president to be disqualified on anonymous charges of voter intimidation?
We all know that the administration, the SGA and student body would not have permitted such a thing to happen. The outcome would have been different if the victim was different.
Perry may be right in his assertions that something hinky happened at College Station. He appears to provide more evidence than Democrats have in their complaints over the November election (even if the A&M election is a much simpler matter than the American one). It might be prudent for A&M to do an investigation into what exactly happened to see if there was a coordinated effort (I feel the same way regarding the U.S. election, even if I don’t think Russia’s involvement was that big). But that’s going to be up to the SGA to decide, and it doesn’t appear they’re going to do an investigation. That’s their wont, regardless if it’s correct or not.
Does it mean the election should be overturned? I’m not 100% sure, and Perry may have made a mistake by writing, “If we do not serve [McIntosh] and the voting majority of students, then we fail every student at our beloved university – and tarnish the ring that our alumni wear with pride.” The comment makes it appear Perry wants the election overturned, and given to McIntosh. If it does turn out Russia had a larger than expected influence in last November’s election (which I don’t think they did), Perry could look like a hypocrite if he comes out and says Donald Trump should remain in office.
But it needs to be pointed out: Perry has no issue with a gay man becoming student-body president, he’s just questioning how it came about. It would be nice if more people on Twitter and in the media would be honest about it, or at least go directly to the source for information. What’s nice is Brooks appears to realize this because he’s thanked Perry for his interest in the election. He’s also done the typical, “come meet with me to discuss things,” which may be better suited for McIntosh, not the ex-governor. But that’s a minor quibble in a very interesting debate.
As for those who are wondering why the U.S. Energy Secretary is even bothering with a university election, you’ve got to understand Perry is a Texas A&M grad. Aggies are cult-like (in a good way) in their devotion to the school. One friend of mine, who was in his first semester in Aggieland, once said he couldn’t get the A&M Fight Song out of his head when he was off campus. It’s hard for others to understand the love Aggies have for their school, so this is why Perry’s decision to comment on the election seems odd to others. Perry just loves Texas A&M, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if he is Energy Secretary.