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Opinion: Unsung hero

Robert Carpenter: Why the Claybrook appeal was about more than the candidate

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

Unsung hero


Mark Womack makes his case before the J-Court.

When international affairs graduate student Mark Womack finished his defense of John Claybrook Monday evening, the beyond-capacity crowd in the Koldus Governance Room erupted into applause. And kept applauding.

Campus elections should be student government's two weeks to shine each spring. It's the process that validates SGA's authority to speak on behalf of students. It's democratic principles in action. It's one of the purest expressions of student voice.

Unfortunately, for reasons addressed on the pages of this newspaper since early last week, a series of events caused the 2012 elections to fall far short of aspirations — disenfranchising the electorate with an unyielding attention to internal disagreements that threatened to rob students of ultimate authority.

If SGA didn't want to be a contemptible body on campus, it was at least sending mixed messages.

So when Womack stood before the Judicial Court, he didn't simply shoulder Claybrook's presidential hopes. He had to convince the nine-member council that respect for student government was worth salvaging.

And he didn't try to sweep the ugly under the rug.

 "You've heard what people have been saying about student government. ‘The guy that wins doesn't win. That doesn't make any sense.' ‘What happened to my vote?'" Womack said, three days after students decided decisively in favor of Claybrook only for his candidacy to be imperiled. "The way things are going right now, I really can't blame people for seeing student government like that."

When manipulated regulations threatened SGA's credibility, Womack turned the organization's constitution against its actions, citing a clause prohibiting excessive punishment.

"Excessive punishment shall not be imposed under the statute," Womack said, his voice growing louder with intensity. "This is excessive. This is excessive."

In the waning seconds of a 30-minute appeal of taxes, rules and numbers, the passion was finally surfacing.

"Six thousand votes being ignored is excessive," Womack said as every ear in the room begged to hear an argument dominated by the logic students felt but no one had voiced. "Hundreds of hours wasted is excessive."

At this point, the stage was set. His time had expired, but Womack wasn't finished.

"You have a choice, ladies and gentlemen. You can reward bad attitudes. You can reward name-calling," Womack said.

"Or you can let the students decide."

What needed to be said was finally said. My only regret is that other campaigns didn't step forward with these arguments when McNutt's candidacy was threatened earlier in the week. It was, after all, essentially the same setting. But better late than never.

Although 95 percent of those in attendance were died-in-the-wool Claybrook supporters, the ovation Womack drew was not simply a show of support for their favorite SBP candidate. It was a response inspired by a voice that finally gave students a reason to trust their student leadership.

Womack returned to his seat while students stood from theirs, the whooping and clapping growing in volume. His oral defense was so passionate and so true to the spirit of student representation that it offered life to an organization in need of a champion.

Let's just hope that the student leadership present in the room took note.



Robert Carpenter is a senior applied math major and editor in chief of The Battalion.

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