Change and reformation are key themes in Rudy Soto’s personal life. While growing up in Nampa, Idaho, the student body presidential candidate was involved with street gangs and eventually detained at a juvenile detention center while he was in middle school. Soto said he learned the power of change while incarcerated, and after he completed some rehabilitative programs, he came to Portland to live with his older brother and eventually began to attend PSU.
Rudy Soto and Brad Vehafric
For President: Rudy Soto
Change and reformation are key themes in Rudy Soto’s personal life.
While growing up in Nampa, Idaho, the student body presidential candidate was involved with street gangs and eventually detained at a juvenile detention center while he was in middle school. Soto said he learned the power of change while incarcerated, and after he completed some rehabilitative programs, he came to Portland to live with his older brother and eventually began to attend PSU.
“My brother has been a mentor, a guiding figure who keeps me in check,” Soto said. “He’s been a big help in my new beginning.”
Born as the middle child of seven, Soto’s father is a Mexican immigrant and his mother a Shoshoni-Bannock Native American. Soto said he feels that this is where his multicultural interests come from.
Soto said that his personal background could be seen as a weakness, but said that, without his history, he would not be who he is today. Because of his time spent incarcerated, he said he has really come to appreciate how powerful change can be.
Soto has been a member of the Associated Students of Portland State University for the last three years. The student body presidential hopeful is a junior and current member of the Student Fee Committee, and has been actively campaigning for the past two months on an essentially progressive platform.
Soto said the idea of running for president comes from a desire to bring change to PSU students. He said one major focus of his presidency would be increasing access to student government and increasing the overall awareness of leadership on campus.
“I think it’s crazy that ASPSU hasn’t brought more attention to the upcoming elections,” Soto said. “That’s where there is a disconnect between students and their government, and I want to repair that disconnection.”
Soto said while both he and opponent Patrick Beisell ran on the progressive campaign in last year’s elections, he will not run with an explicit affiliation to any political party in his presidential bid.
Soto said he feels most of what happens within the parties does not equate to a measurable change.
“I want to help actually bring about change, not just discuss it,” Soto said.
Soto said that one particular issue he intends to address is accessibility of student resources. He said one key example is the Millar Library, which closes at 11 p.m. each day.
When he was a freshman, the library was open until midnight and for longer hours.
“I want to reopen the library for all hours,” Soto said. “That would help promote student access and build respect for the resources we have.”
For Vice President: Brad Vehafric
Brad Vehafric is a newcomer to Portland State’s student government with experience in local Portland politics.
As the candidate for ASPSU vice president on Rudy Soto’s ticket, Vehafric is a double major in social sciences and psychology and is finishing his sophomore year at PSU. In the past, he has worked with the Portland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest union dedicated to assisting public service workers.
“I’ve been involved with local politics for a long while,” Vehafric said. “I have a solid understanding of how Portland is structured politically and communally.”
Vehafric said that he met Soto over a year ago, when Soto was running for a position on the Student Fee Committee. Vehafric was a freshman at the time and as he and Soto began to spend more time together, the two realized how similar their political views are.
“We got to talking about our views and realized that we run along a lot of the same political threads,” Vehafric said.
Vehafric and Soto have collaborated on various issues since then, including May Day 2006, an event regarding the rights of immigrant workers. Vehafric helped organize the event that took place in the Park Blocks while Soto took on security detail.
Vehafric said that he has been passionately involved with community organization since 2003. He said that working with communities is one of his strong suits and that he wants to bring those talents to Soto’s platform during the next year.
“There are a lot of things that ASPSU could be doing that they’re just not doing right now,” Vehafric said. “I want to bring change to that with Rudy and the on campus issues will be at the core.”
Vehafric has also volunteered with Sisters of the Road, a local charity organization that promotes poverty and homelessness awareness. Vehafric said he volunteered with them for 20 hours each week during a seven-month period and still tries to help out when he can.
He said he feels that change begins with actions, not words.
“There is a difference between making promises you can’t keep and the ability to create a legacy of change,” Vehafric said.
Vehafric said that he is also intent on promoting a more honest and open campaign than recent Associated Students of Portland State University candidates. He said that students have seen government leaders elected based on promises that the leaders have not kept.
He said he wants to create a paradigm shift in the ways students feel about ASPSU.
“It’s something like a 1-in-25 ratio of students that vote, and that’s a high estimate,” Vehafric said. “We want to say what we mean and do what we say.”
Patrick Beisell and Johnnie Ozimkowski
For President: Patrick Beisell
While Patrick Beisell did not originally intend to get involved with student government, he said he has always had a strong sense of community, which he attributes to growing up in Portland.
After being recruited into ASPSU during his freshman year by the current vice president, Jesse Bufton, Beisell said he quickly developed a taste for student government. He served first as a freshman senator and then as a Judicial Board state liaison before coming into his current position as state affairs director for the Associated Students of Portland State University.
Beisell, along with campaign running mate Johnnie Ozimkowski, is focusing on a “scaled-down” campaign that concentrates on community.
“We really care about community on campus,” said Beisell. “It stems from experience growing up in Portland. There’s no community on PSU because it’s a commuter campus.”
Bringing people together is what his campaign is all about, Beisell said.
“It’s not just a philosophy,” he said. “It’s about being visible on campus–making sure that ASPSU is out there and supporting communities that are already there.”
Compared to last year’s elections, Beisell said his campaign is working on smaller, obtainable goals, such as lowering tuition and working towards more affordable housing on campus. Beisell said he wants to get cheaper bus passes and increased medical insurance for students.
“I have a lot of experience with health and family services,” Beisell said.
Beisell said that increasing accessibility on campus will help foster a greater sense of community.
“PSU always champions how much experience there is in the city but it doesn’t necessarily lead you down the path,” said Beisell. “Other universities have a big room, or a lounge-somewhere where students flock to hang out. PSU needs a community space. Students need somewhere to go and they need to understand it’s a safe place to hang out.”
In addition to being an active member of ASPSU, Beisell has been involved with a number of extracurricular activities.
“I’ve always been really involved in the PSU community,” Beisell said. “I’ve also done a lot of service work, for the Oregon food bank and Habitat for Humanity.”
Beisell has been a member of the Jewish Student Union and wrote for the Vanguard last spring. He is currently a disc jockey at Portland State’s radio station, KPSU.
For Vice President: Johnnie Ozimkowski
Johnnie Ozimkowski has always felt a strong obligation to do the right thing. When his mother, who is disabled, started an organization for local disabled people, Ozimkowski began to help her with rallies and events.
“I thought, if these people can provide positive change, then I had an obligation to do the best I can for social justice,” Ozimkowski said. “I have a responsibility and I got involved with ASPSU for that reason.”
Ozimkowski, vice presidential running mate for presidential candidate Patrtick Beisell, said he feels strongly about community. Growing up in southern Oregon, Ozimkowski went out of state for his first year of college, but decided to come to Portland State his sophomore year.
Ozimkowski said he was little disappointed with PSU at first.
Along with his running mate Beisell, Ozimkowski is emphasizing a campaign in favor of increased community for that very reason. It is something the university needs more of, Ozimkowski said.
“Access to higher education is dear to me,” Ozimkowski said. “Accessibility and education change needs to happen. We’ve seen a huge investment in higher education this year, the biggest in a long time. I’m excited to be involved with student government and that investment.”
“We’re not going to make promises we can’t keep,” he said. “We’re going to positively effect change and create a greater community.”
A tuition plateau is one of the ways that Ozimkowski hopes to foster community at PSU. With many students at Portland State working to support themselves, he hopes that a plateau can make their lives a little easier.
“There used to be a plateau at PSU, four or five years ago. With a plateau, a student taking 15 credits pays for 15 credits. But, a student taking 21 credits also pays for 15 credits,” Ozimkowski said. “This gives students the chance to get their degrees on time. You can take 17 or 18 credits if you have to and still be able to afford books, rather than having to decide between, say, eight or 12 credits, plus books.”
Ozimkoski said a plateau is feasible because of an increased investment in higher education.
“It’s going to be so effectual for so many students,” Ozimkowski said. “Because we’re a commuter campus, we have to have some sort of safety net for services the school should be providing anyway.”
Family health also plays a large role in the campaign. With the new inclusion of dental insurance to students’ general health plan within the last few years, Ozimkowski and Beisell are working towards free prescription drug coverage and vision insurance.
“Health and family services are important,” said Ozimkowski. “It’s the next step in making sure we protect our community.”
Ozimkowski said he loves meeting new people and networking, another reason why the campaign features a strong focus on community.
“I love doing this so much, because at the end of the day I get to meet new people and get new perspectives,” he said. “PSU is great when you can get involved, but it should be great for everyone who can’t.”