Claybrook, Senate off to rough start
Senators block three from executive cabinet, nominee’s immigration status given as reason
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07
Student senators debated issues including immigration status and credibility during Wednesday’s Senate meeting as the body judged the merits of Student Body President John Claybrook’s executive cabinet nominees.
Ten students were nominated for executive positions. Seven were confirmed by the Senate while three were denied — Drew Barber for internal vice president, Michael Apple for vice president of finance and Jose Luis Zelaya for vice president of diversity.
During the debate about Zelaya’s nomination for vice president of diversity, Senators raised concerns about his immigration status. Zelaya, a graduate student and Class of 2011, does not reside legally in the country.
Zelaya said everyone who debated either for or against him said he was the most qualified person to serve as vice president of diversity.
“They said they respected me, but then they said that there’s something that separates me — that my status shouldn’t allow me to serve this amazing University,” Zelaya said.
Senators responded to Zelaya’s presentation with applause Wednesday evening. When the floor opened for senators to ask Zelaya questions or to express concerns about his qualifications, they asked only one question — whether it was true he could do magic. Jose was given another round of applause after he performed a quick magic trick.
Zelaya said no senators raised concerns about his immigration status to him personally, despite opportunity.
“I’m not running for the Texas Legislature, I’m not running for the House of Representatives, I’m running for Texas A&M University where I am a legal student,” Zelaya said.
Zelaya said several students approached him after the meeting, saying they are going to transfer universities because they feel unwelcome at A&M.
“I was shocked,” Zelaya said. “It’s hard to hear my brothers and sisters express themselves the way they expressed about me yesterday.”
Off-campus senator Chris Russo said the concern raised about Zelaya’s immigration status was about the appearance it would have on Student Government, the potential for a scandal and the possibility that Zelaya would be unable to perform his duties because of the “state of affairs” in the U.S.
Zelaya came four votes shy of the two-thirds majority required for confirmation, with 20 senators dissenting.
Russo said he and other senators believe Zelaya would personalize issues, based on his history, which Russo said can be off-putting. He said this was significant when considering issues as “potentially divisive” as policies about diversity.
Mark Womack, Student Government executive vice president, said it was unacceptable that senators raised Zelaya’s immigration status several times during the course of the debate.
“The only status that we’re concerned with is the status that’s on his right hand — and that’s his Aggie Ring.” Womack said.
Off-campus senator Austin Luce said there was concern as to whether or not Zelaya was going to be able to be a “uniter.”
“He was more of a single-issue kind of guy,” Luce said. “I’m sure he reached out to many different kinds of groups, but the work he has done was specifically on the DREAM Act. I believe the main sentiment among senators was that he would use the role to work on one particular issue — that it would be more divisive than unifying.”
Barber, formerly a candidate for student body president, did not find a welcoming Senate, either. Russo said the reason Student Senate did not approve of his appointment was Barber’s record, which he said proved Barber to be unfit for the job of internal vice president.
There was also a concern that Barber’s endorsement of Claybrook for the runoff election appeared to be a kind of “rewards structure.”
Claybrook can re-nominate the denied candidates one more time. If Senate denies confirmation again, Claybrook will have unfilled cabinet positions for several months, until the fall semester begins.
Claybrook said he is going to bring Zelaya back up for nomination next week.
“He has every qualification in the world and has an amazing vision for the position,” Claybrook said.
The student body president’s cabinet members present the legislation that is passed in Senate to administrators and others outside the organization.
Student Senator Austin Luce said senators confirmed nominees who were qualified and who would unite students, unlike the three who were not confirmed.
“We’re not here to oil the machine in place. It’s not going to be politics as usual,” Luce said.