The president speaks

After months of heavy campaigning, a canceled election, winning the popular vote, being invalidated as president-elect and then reinstated, Rudy Soto takes the office of student body president today. The Vanguard sat down with Soto to talk about the stress of the election cycle, how he plans to move forward, and his goal to create an efficient and open student government in the coming year.

After months of heavy campaigning, a canceled election, winning the popular vote, being invalidated as president-elect and then reinstated, Rudy Soto takes the office of student body president today.

On April 20, Soto was elected Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) president along with running mate Brad Vehafric.

Soto’s opponent, Patrick Beisell, filed an appeal to the Judicial Board that said Soto was ineligible because he had dropped below a six-credit requirement to run for office. The Judicial Board upheld the appeal.

On May 15, the Elections Board, under Judicial Board mandate, disqualified Soto. Beisell was declared president-elect.

On May 22, Oregon Department of Justice legal counsel Chip Lazenby gave the Elections Board a document that said PSU checks enrollment status during the fourth week of the term. Soto’s enrollment status was checked during the third week. During the fourth week Soto’s credits were above the minimum. The Elections Board re-declared him student body president.

The Vanguard sat down with Soto to talk about the stress of the election cycle, how he plans to move forward, and his goal to create an efficient and open student government in the coming year.

The elections were canceled, you won the popular vote and later your victory was called into question. Tomorrow you will be president. How does that feel? It’s exciting. There’s been a lot of tension created from all the elections controversy and that’s put a lot more spotlight on student government in the city. A lot of people are aware of what’s been going on. Therefore I feel pressure to live up to high expectations and I plan to do a good job.

What specifically do you think you will bring that will live up to those expectations? I ran on a platform wanting to change student government, [and] all the candidates who ran with me won…. Therefore we have been given a mandate…I don’t see a lot of barriers within student government to accomplish what we said we wanted to accomplish. That would be the biggest concern coming into it–are we going to be blocked?

That must be a worry, though, since there is a perception of two camps: Patrick Beisell and Johnnie Ozimkowski, Rudy Soto and Brad Vehafric. Have you already started to try and bridge this gap, or how will you? Yeah, we have. I was out of town this week, but I’ve been speaking with Johnnie and some of the others who ran on his slate…so the lines of communication have been really opened up.

Have you talked to Patrick at all? No, I have not talked to him. We were going to meet but we both decided that it would be best to wait until it [the election] was resolved, and we’ll be speaking here shortly.

Are there any bitter feelings, then? Not so much. On my part I feel like I can understand. He really had all the qualifications for the job.

Would you hire Patrick if he wanted a job? I would definitely talk to him about it.

So you are looking to move on past these last whole couple of months…Yes, this-two election cycles and all…it’s been very tumultuous.

But in doing it you must have learned something in the process. How do you think you’ve grown in these last two cycles? What skills have you learned? I’ve built up a lot of confidence in terms of process. Student government does a lot that has to do with process within the different bodies [and] branches. I’ve learned a lot more during this time period. And patience…

You have less experience in ASPSU than the people you were running against. You were in the Student Fee Committee and you interned. Brad, from what I know, doesn’t have any experience with student government. How will this affect your administration? I think it’s going to give us more of a learning curve for this summer. I feel like on paper I might be less qualified, but institutional knowledge, being involved in student groups, social connections…

Brad definitely has a lot of work to do in terms of getting caught up with training and workshops, but what he’s going to be able to do is effectively run the senate and that’s what’s badly needed, because the senate has been a part of student government that has not worked well.

So basically we are bringing fresh perspective and reinvigoration to student government…and that’s why I think people voted for us, so they could see a change.

Next year the election will be held in the same time period. There have been questions raised that it could cause problems in future elections, that it might set a precedent for students not to register for classes until the fourth week of the term. The Elections Board has the ability to make changes to the bylaws, whereas this year it was supposed to happen in the ninth week of the term so they weren’t able to plan for this. They need to make sure that this can’t be abused.

Moving on from that and looking toward the future, summer is a pretty big time for student government. What do you plan on doing? Basically we are working hard and fast to form a team. It is a crucial time and we are going to be doing trainings, workshops…

Are there a few specific goals you want to accomplish before fall term? It’s going to be training and hiring staff, and of course team building.

You’ve spoken about wanting to get more students involved in student government…That’s our overall goal, to engage students that have been disengaged.

How do you plan on building up an interest? I’m sure previous administrations have tried to do that, but what will you do differently? Being more visible and more active and involved in campus events like the Roots Festival. Working on things that affect them [students] on a daily basis. Textbook exchange is a huge goal, increasing access to the library and then of course student events and social awareness…basically to improve the quality of our education at PSU and our services.

Now let’s go through your platform issues and then maybe you can tell me for each of them what definitive ideas you have to implement them.Lowering the FlexPass cost…We are going to sit down at the table with Dan Zalkow, the manager of transportation and parking services. Also, [Portland City Commissioner] Mr. Sam Adams has been at the initial meeting we had. We are going to look at how that can be a feasibility.

You’ve said you wanted a 24-hour library, but people have brought up that the reason we don’t have it is the cost. Is that still a reality? Our ambitious goal is we want a 24-hour library for midterms and finals. That’s what we want, but what we need is more access to the library. And so I’ve spoken with Helen Spalding, the main administrator for the library, and other people who work at the library…they look forward also to sit down and talk with us about how student government can work more closely with the library, because they are not opposed to it. They’ve just been devastated by funding cuts.

And then textbook exchange…We are creating a position on our executive staff for a textbook exchange coordinator to develop a short-term program and hopefully help in laying the groundwork for a long-term textbook exchange program. This is one of the things I’m most excited about and we are going to make it happen and hopefully do a good run of it fall term.

And the one you’ve said is your overall goal is connecting students to ASPSU…New student week…we’re going to be out there. We are going to be engaging freshmen students and we are going to be attracting them to ASPSU. We are going to update our website. We are going to improve the image of ASPSU.

Now, you ran for president for a reason, you felt that something needed to be changed. What do you feel is wrong with ASPSU now and what will you do to fix it? I feel that ASPSU became its own little clique, its own little group of students who ran student government in a way that didn’t really reach out to other students. It was just very kind of closed in. Our whole thing is we are going to open it up and we are going to do the extra work that it takes to try and get more people involved and we are going to do it differently.

The first half of your year is going to be huge…Fall term, especially…

Right now what you are known for is this election cycle, but a year is going to go by. What would you like your legacy to be when people look back? We want to have student government be respected and be a valid voice for students at Portland State.

What would you like to say to the students? Be ready to see change, change for the better.