The 2019 SGA Debates: a de facto Speaker and a diverse race

The five presidential candidates debate onstage at the 2019 SGA debates, hosted by The Signal. Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

The Signal hosted the 2019 Student Government Association debates on Tuesday, March 12. That same night, Atlanta Sen. Kaelen Thomas became the next speaker of the Atlanta Senate.

Thomas had been running for the position against his competitor Averyona Walters. But, when she arrived over 30 minutes late to the scheduled debate, she was disqualified from the race.

Walters appealed the election commission’s decision to the Student Judicial Board and had a hearing on March 13. The SJB ruled in agreement with the election commission’s decision, officially removing her from the race.

Walters said that she was late to the debate due to a family emergency and after hearing the news when she arrived, she felt too upset to stay for the entire event.

“If I can no longer run for Atlanta Speaker of the Senate. I will definitely continue to be involved with SGA,” Walters said. “I’ve been involved with SGA since my freshman year and held many other positions before. I’d love to hold any position as long as I continue to be the voice for students at Georgia State.”

Walters said she now has her eyes on the position of communications director, which would be appointed by the next president, or an open senate seat in the future.

Now running uncontested, Thomas is the de facto winner for the upcoming election.

Thomas said he thought it was terrible Walters was disqualified and encouraged her to appeal the process after he heard the news following the debate. Despite that, he said he would trust the SJB’s ruling.

As for his goals as speaker? One of the biggest is community involvement.

“Students still don’t know what we do and that is unacceptable,” he said. “During my term, I’ve also talked to several other Senators who have had great ideas but not enough support to make them happen. As Speaker, I will give them the tools and guidance necessary to make change.”

Due to a suddenly uncontested race, the debates opened with the executive vice president candidates.

Students on the Atlanta campus will choose between candidates Jesse Calixte, Hamza Rahman and Gregory Wright.

SGA Executive Vice Presidential candidates Jesse Calixte, Hamza Rahman and Gregory Wright.

The moderating panel for the debates consisted of Ada Wood, associate news editor for The Signal, Shari Celestine, opinions editor for The Signal and Kevin Sanchez, news director for Panther Report News.

This year, more than 120 students were in attendance – a large increase in turnout compared to last year’s number of around 40 students.

On the debate stage, Calixte was asked about his plans to improve communication between students and the administration.

“There are things that must be done and I want to take care of that by actually taking action,” Calixte said.

Rahman was questioned on his current term as senator, including a particular event in which he called one former student a “daughter of a donkey” during a tense exchange in Arabic.

“I apologized for those remarks, it is not OK to stoop down to the level of someone cursing at you,” he said. “In the future, I hope – I will – take a minute to take a breather and consider the repercussions of my actions.”

Wright is a current SGA representative and chair of the Bylaws Committee. In a question about the role and responsibility of the EVP, Wright said the EVP is a leader and he hopes that students are involved in the election.

The moderator Sanchez then asked for specifics on what the EVP does while in office.

Wright seemed visibly confused on the specifics of what Sanchez requested and then chose not to respond during the following round of questions.

The debate for president followed. Five candidates are running for president this year, the largest candidate pool in over 10 years.

Students will be voting for following candidates from Tuesday, March 26, to Thursday, March 28 this week: Anthony Jones, Ira Livnat, Jazmin Mejia, Nashbi Grand-Jean and Shay’na Fields.

SGA Presidential candidates Anthony Jones, Ira Livnat, Jazmin Mejia, Nashbi Grand-Jean and Shay’na Fields.

Jones was questioned on his removal from the Senate last semester, which occurred after he missed an excess of meetings and consequently acquired too many points.

He preceded to show the crowd a scar on his arm and explained that this absence was due to a broken wrist and said that he did not campaign for Homecoming Court – a concern that had been raised by some students – during the same period in which he missed Senate meetings.

Livnat is running as the only freshman candidate for SGA president.

“Part of the job is listening, it’s recognizing there are people that know things a little bit better than you know,” he said. “A fresh set of eyes is always advantageous.”

Mejia is the only sitting SGA senator of the five candidates, and she was questioned on her activity during Senate meetings, as she has previously introduced legislation but infrequently engages in debate on the Senate floor. She responded that she plans to become a more active leader by speaking out on campus issues, while also mentioning details of the recent Human Trafficking Week she hosted for SGA.

In his platform, Grand-Jean has said he wants to open a constituency office to expand SGA’s student outreach. He was questioned on the feasibility and research for these plans.

Because of his work in constituent services through the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, he said he sees the importance for this and hopes to bring SGA to iCollege.

Fields is campaigning on an initiative to boost student engagement by hosting events across all six campuses. Despite largely unsuccessful attempts that SGA and other student organizations have previously done to achieve that goal, Fields’ platform rests on a heavy importance for that initiative. How does she plan to succeed?

“It may have been tried before, but you haven’t tried me,” she said.

The debate can be viewed in full on YouTube via the PRN’s channel or with highlights for the EVP and presidential debate via The Signal’s channel.
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