NISG normalizes controversy in ignoring conflict of interest

JACOB MADDEN, News Editor | [email protected]

In the past two years, Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) has gone through a tumultuous period of establishing visibility to students and re-establishing their credibility to those students who work with NISG closely. This period of confusion has culminated into dubious circumstances this election season with the possibility of a dangerous precedent to be set for the future.

Recent history of allegations

Two issues dominated the news coming out of NISG last year, the first of which was the introduction of a bill to impeach then-NISG President Katie Evans, an issue that coincided with the resignation of then-Vice President Renae Beard and then-Senator Heather Applegate. According to the Northern Iowan archives, Applegate resigned as a direct result of the failure of the senate to form an investigative committee in regards to the allegations made against Evans.

The resignation of Beard and Applegate came on Nov. 18 of 2015 after Beard and Evans won the election in a runoff in March of 2015. This issue was followed shortly after by the chaos that was the 2016 NISG election.

Hunter Flesch and Avery Johnson won the election after a five-hour long emergency deliberation with the election commission over several allegations. The allegations came in after the votes had been tallied and the election commission had  to sort out accusations made between the Hunter-Avery ticket and their opponents Jamison Whiting and Aaron Friel.

These allegations laid the foundation for a normalization of controversy surrounding NISG, and one that persists into this year’s affairs and election.

Conflict of interest ignored

This year NISG has not seen nearly as much controversy as last, but the ripples of last year’s mistakes continue to plague NISG. The primary issue to be addressed by NISG, and one that they continue to ignore, is the existence of conflicts of interest that are evident upon rudimentary analysis.

The conflicts of interest are most apparent in the campaign of Maggie Miller. Miller is the current chief justice of the NISG Supreme Court, and has “stepped aside” from her position for this election.

Traditionally, the chief justice of the supreme court served as election commissioner, the primary logistical mover during election season. This year, Miller nominated Associate Justice Ben Dzaboff to be election commissioner and he was appointed to the position by his fellow Justices. Whiting, a presidential candidate last year, was additionally appointed to the election commission as an advisor after his experience with the allegation and sanction system.

While Miller is not on the election commission, she still had unfair access to the election rules and her close relationship to the election commission breaks from standard democratic principles. Miller set the agenda all of last semester for what rules were to be voted on the supreme court meetings.

For clarity, no rules were changed in any way that gives a clear advantage to Miller, however the possibility of blatant power grabs were, and are, extant.

This past semester, the supreme court changed the rules to unify the wording of who the election commissioner is, who the chief justice is and the difference between the supreme court and the election commission. This is a good thing. Clarity of language in law is critical to the most efficient operation of a government at any level.

However, the clarification of rules allows for the chief justice to “step aside” when they feel they are not fit to run the election commission. This enumeration allows for one glaring opportunity: the chief justice can run for president and retain their position of chief justice if they lose.

This is immensely problematic, as it establishes a troubling pathway to the presidency.

Dangerous precedent

Given the information enumerated in the election rules and constitution, it is possible that someone who is friends with the President and Vice President can be appointed to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice after confirmation by the Senate, bypassing a vote from the student body. With enough political capital invested in one’s political success, a position well-earned by Miller, the overwhelming support of other governmental officials can disincentivize any “average student” from attempting to make a difference by bringing in new ideas or perspectives because the advantage held by those already in NISG seems insurmountable.

The system as it stands now allows for a student to obtain political power in the judicial branch by befriending the President and Vice President and pulling a moderate amount of support in the senate. From a position on the Supreme Court — but especially Chief Justice — a student can run for NISG President, and due to the “step aside” clause, retain their position as chief or associate justice if they lose, or assume the presidency if they win. Members of the judicial branch can, effectively, make no political sacrifice to run for the office of president.

It is this type of insider play that has students disillusioned with NISG and hopeless to become involved if they have not been since their freshman year.

NISG can stop normalization

It is critical to note that all possibilities explained here are constitutional as it stands now. Some opportunities are a consequence of the admittedly correct clarification of wording in the election rules. While there is nothing wrong from a legal standpoint, it remains that NISG has a system in place that would never stand at the local, state or federal level and should state at the University level. This does not reflect poorly on Miller, Flesch, Evans or any other particular person named, but instead reflects on the lack of oversight that NISG has on its own affairs.

NISG has the opportunity now to correct course and to reinvest itself in the success of all students, to break the normalization of controversy.