One day after the Saturday inauguration of Georgetown University Student Association President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18), the senate voted down the duo’s proposal to restructure the executive branch into policy coalitions in a sign of disconnect between the executive branch and senate.
The Mack-Andino bill proposed replacing existing policy teams with coalitions, which would have fewer members than the current teams, but would give those members more power to make direct policy decisions. The coalitions would also include members of organizations outside of GUSA.
The senate voted down the proposal, with the bill receiving only 13 of the 20 necessary votes to pass with a two-thirds majority of all senators. Nine senators voted against the bill, one abstained and seven senators were absent for the vote.
Before voting down the entire bill, the senate voted by acclamation to remove the substance of the reforms with amendments, leaving only the semantic change of renaming “policy teams” to “policy coalitions.” The Senate removed the ability of policy coalitions, which sought to bring together GUSA and student advocacy groups in developing policy, to be held in private and not publish meeting notes.
Mack said some senators said the vote to kill the bill was largely motivated by senators’ antipathy toward the new administration.
“A lot of people have moved past the election, but everyone has not. Getting hung up over semantics that do not affect the senate is something that speaks to that,” Mack said.
During the campaign in February, the majority of senators supported and campaigned for Mack and Andino’s opponents, Garet Williams (COL ’18) and Habon Ali (SFS ’18). Mack and Andino received 1,160 votes in the final round, defeating Williams and Ali by 34 votes.
Mack said the senate has been largely cooperative and helpful during the transition, but that the vote reflects the possibility that some senators have not yet accepted the election results. However, Mack said he is not concerned about the senate and the executive branch’s ability to work together on the administration’s proposed reforms.
“Folks who don’t want to work with us, and don’t want to improve Georgetown, can do as they please. There are enough senators that want to do the actual job, that it will not affect the ability of GUSA to get its work done,” Mack said. “There are a lot of senators who don’t want this to be what the senate is. And those are going to be the senators who are going to be working with us hand-in-hand on the ‘exec’ side.”
GUSA senator Isaac Liu (COL ’20), who helped the new administration write the bill, attributed some senators’ decisions to vote against it in part to resentment of the election results.
“A couple people are still not very happy about the election results, because it was so close,” Liu said. “Some of that anger has carried over and is not creating a productive environment.”
GUSA senator Zach Oschin (SFS ’20) said some senators remain hostile toward the new administration, but that he is optimistic the senate and executive will be able to work together.
“The people who are currently in the senate will get over that animosity,” Oschin said. “Hopefully, there will be a recognition that this is going to be the leaders of our student government, and we are not going to make progress by stifling what they want to do.”
Oschin said he did not agree with the administration’s proposed changes, but said the senate should have allowed the administration to enact its own agenda.
“If the executive wants to move forward with structuring their government in this way, the senate should be okay with changing the bylaws to fit that,” Oschin said. “Even if I disagree with that, we should respect the wishes of the executive and codify them in the bylaws.”
GUSA senator Scott Lowder (COL ’17), who is vice chair the Finance and Appropriations Committee that appropriates the student activity fee, said he voted to remove the provisions to have closed-door meetings and unpublished meeting notes in keeping with the principle of transparency, though he acknowledged they may do little practical harm.
“I doubt we’ll find anyone that says the public is banging down the door of the room to get into policy team meetings, but it definitely is about the principle,” Lowder said. “Some of us who supported those changes last year were hesitant about going back and making things less transparent.”
GUSA senator William Morris said the senate only voted to reject the bill because passing it would not be necessary for the administration to enact its proposed policies.
“While some may interpret Sunday’s debate as an example of Senate obstructionism towards the new administration, this is frankly not the case,” Morris wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Senate simply concluded that alterations to the bylaws were not needed for the Mack-Andino administration to move forward with their policy initiatives.”
Lowder said he rejected the bill in opposition to the name change and to signal opposition to parts of the new administration’s push to develop policy coalitions.
“Coalition, in the minds of many senators, myself included, becomes synonymous with heading back to a more insular GUSA that focuses on the opinions of certain student leaders rather than the student body at large,” Lowder said. “If the bill had passed, it wouldn’t have done a lot substantively. For me, the ‘No’ vote was to register opposition to codifying a whole new system again after we had this huge reform just one year ago.”
At the Saturday ceremony, Mack discussed his vision for what his administration will accomplish.
“We want to continue building on the good work that’s been done, but also reacting to things that students see as negative,” Mack said. “Jessica and I want to continue reaching out to people who oftentimes feel like they’ve been left out, and that they haven’t had a seat at the table.”
Former GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) spoke about the challenges of having such a limited time to enact her desired change.
“Obviously, if we each had four-year terms, it’d be great. We’d get a thousand things done. But the reality is we have only one year, and what you take out of the year is what’s really important, because at the end of the day, students need change,” Khan said.
Correction: This article previously stated GUSA senator Scott Lowder (COL ’17) chairs the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee; he is the vice chair.
This post has been updated.