SGA presidential debate paves way for March 8 election
Student Government Association presidential candidates Madeline Martin and Sarah Shield discussed transparency and accountability in front of 250 people at Sunday night’s debate.
The winner of this year’s presidential election will go down in the history of the SGA: it will be the first time that a woman succeeds another as president.
Jackson Harris, deputy director of the UA Civic Engagement Center, moderated the panel — the first since 2019.
Last year, there was no presidential debate because all leadership positions were uncontested. Instead, they hosted an executive council candidate forum.
After a backstage coin toss that determined the order of opening statements, alternating questions, and closing statements, each candidate was given three minutes to make their opening statement.
Shield opened the discussion by addressing the issues she observed within SGA. She said the organization was covering up its mistakes, failing to address students’ concerns, and serving its own interests rather than those of the students.
Shield’s platform includes four points: sanity, student experience, athletics, and accountability.
“I’m here today because it’s time for a change,” Shield said. “For too long, SGA members have failed to deliver on their promises and swept their mistakes under the rug. Time and time again I have raised my concerns with SGA and been assured that this will be resolved just for it to happen again.
Martin called for a deeper sense of unity on campus with the University and the surrounding community.
She said equity is important to her campaign and that she will work with students and staff to promote diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and policies.
Martin said she was not running for president out of self-interest but out of interest in the students.
“I’m not here to endorse my own agenda,” she said. “I’m not here to push my personal platform. I’m here to be a voice for all of you, because that’s what an SGA President is. It’s having that privilege and honor to be in the room with the UA admin and really care about the students and how can we fix it.
Harris asked whether either candidate benefited from organized student factions, primarily public or secret student political parties or organizations.
Shield highlighted her decision to run as an independent candidate on “no platform other than her own.” Shield said she disapproves of students showing up with the support of the Machine, an underground political organization on campus more than 100 years old.
“The Machine is an organization that was founded on the principle of white supremacy, and it was founded to keep minorities out of power on campus,” Shield said. “It continues to be relevant and continues to bring people under SGA. And quite frankly, I think it’s very disappointing that candidates continue to come forward in that guise.
Shield said acknowledging the machine’s influence in elections was necessary to “give SGA back to the students” and encourage more students to participate in student government.
Martin also denied endorsement of any student political organization – secret or public.
Board of Elections
Moderation posed a question only to Martin, inquiring about his purchase of 100 notebooks that the Shield campaign team reported to the election commission as a violation of the Elections Manual.
The notebooks included a cover page titled “Madeline Martin SGA President” and cost $969.38, which exceeds the $750 spending limit for presidential campaigns.
Martin said these materials were purchased and made during her “exploratory period” as a candidate before declaring her candidacy, and she denied the notebooks were campaign material.
“It is my SGA constitutional right that I can meet with friends, advisors and mentors here at Capstone to discuss my best path at UA,” Shield said. “That’s what these materials were for. I never used them after my declaration of candidacy and they were never distributed to any student for any campaign material.
The election committee dismissed charges against Martin, who accused the Shield campaign team of obtaining his personal information without his consent.
“How did the Shield team obtain these documents without my consent?” said Martin. “How did they release personal information such as my home address, credit card number, phone number, and even have a bill I’ve never seen before without my consent?”
Shield said she and her team had nothing to do with the release of Martin’s receipt, which The Crimson White published with Martin’s personal information redacted on Friday.
“It was reported to us and we sent it to the election committee because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Shield said.
Shield said she believed the notebooks were purchased for campaign purposes.
Shield campaign manager Garrett Burnett appealed to the Judiciary on March 6 in response to the Electoral Council’s rejection of all charges against Martin.
Martin concluded by sharing his four platform points: connection, awareness, equity, and professional and academic development. As president of the SGA, Martin said she would be a voice for every student.
“I will be your SGA President,” Martin said in closing.
Shield said this year’s election could be an opportunity for change, encouraging students to thoroughly research each candidate on the ballot.
“If you want change, don’t vote for someone who was in power last year and failed to deliver on the promises they are now promising to put in place this year.”
The election will take place on Tuesday, March 8, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on myBama.