A Sequoia Hall resident adviser, the Interfraternity Council president, an Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors representative and the University Union Advisory Board chair all have one goal on their minds this month — and it comes with a reserved parking space.
The four ASI presidential candidates have been making their rounds on campus and giving speeches for months already, but campaigning officially opened Sunday evening. The names “Daniel Wasta,” “Nate Honeycutt,” “Jason Colombini” and “Haley Houle” are now allowed to flood the university on posters, signs and booths — and, if history repeats itself, brightly colored T-shirts will become a staple at Cal Poly until elections open April 24.
“It’s going to be super hectic and unpredictable,” current president and sociology senior Katie Morrow said. “Anything can happen. Any one of these candidates could win, guaranteed.”
The comparatively large number of students running will force candidates to do more creative campaigning than in previous years, Morrow said. There have been no more than two presidential candidates since 2009, with Morrow running unopposed in 2012 (except for one write-in candidate).
“It’s got to be so nerve-wracking for them, but a huge motivation,” she said. “They’re not just trying to out-strategize and talk to more people than one person, but they have to figure out how to have the best strategy against three other ones. That would be crazy.”
Morrow, who is graduating, has met with three of the presidential candidates to give advice on campaigning and the president’s job. She declined to say who she did not meet with, but added that she waited for each of them to come to her.
Though Morrow said she will vote on the 24th, she is keeping quiet on who it will be for. She said she wants to be a neutral resource for each of the candidates, and doesn’t want to discourage any of them from coming to her for advice or to sway students’ decisions.
As for the candidates, they want nothing more than to sway voters during these next nine days: hundreds of T-shirts are stockpiled and campaign pitches are ready to go this week. The four will introduce themselves to students at a forum Tuesday in the University Union Plaza, as well as during a debate there Thursday.
The candidates each talked to Mustang Daily about their experience at Cal Poly and why they’re running for ASI president:
Political science junior Daniel Wasta comes as the untraditional candidate this election, but he insists that doesn’t make him an underdog. Wearing his usual collared shirt and skinny tie, Wasta said being the only candidate completely new to ASI leadership doesn’t make him a liability: It gives him a new perspective.
“I’m thinking people are going to think I’m at a disadvantage, that I haven’t held an ASI position,” he said. “But leadership-wise, I’m not at a disadvantage. I’ve stayed connected with this campus the entire time here.”
Wasta is a resident adviser in Sequoia Hall, a job he says brought new perspective to how student government interacts with first-year students. Because Interhousing Council, not ASI, governs the residence halls, Wasta said it can be a confusing governance transition for students after their first year at Cal Poly. Wasta said he wants to change ASI’s outreach to freshmen and eventually increase the number of first-year students who campaign for ASI Board of Directors.
From a campaigning standpoint, it doesn’t concern Wasta that his goals for incoming first years would largely benefit a group of students who won’t vote in this year’s election. Because one of his main platforms is increasing school spirit and unity, he is confident this year’s voters will care about future students.
“I still feel like people who go to Cal Poly now want the best for who’s coming next,” Wasta said. “They want to support their fellow Mustangs. Deep down, we have an intrinsic value to support each other.”
Though Wasta’s philosophy is reminiscent of The Mustang Way, a spirit-driven initiative Morrow introduced to campus in fall quarter, he criticized the president as not having done enough to unite students — specifically freshmen.
“Morrow came and spoke at the kickoff down at (Alex G. Spanos Stadium), and they haven’t heard from her since,” Wasta said. “I want to … give the school a more college feel. Right now, ASI runs as a corporation.”
Psychology junior Nate Honeycutt, a more traditional candidate who’s spent two years as a Board of Directors representative for the College of Science and Math and College of Liberal Arts, is proud of what ASI has done during his time at Cal Poly. In fact, the biggest change he would make — increasing outreach by student representatives — is something he says student government is already doing “good work” on.
“Only good can come from people knowing who represents them and can communicate easily with them,” Honeycutt said. “I think it’s happening, but it can happen better. We could do better.”
Voters might recognize Honeycutt from his work on the Semester Review Task Force, where he served with two other students and eventually recommended against Cal Poly converting to semesters. He later helped author an ASI resolution that endorsed the task force’s decision.
Honeycutt said he was disappointed by California State University Chancellor Timothy White’s decision to move Cal Poly to semesters as part of a systemwide realignment, but was pleased with the on-campus outreach done to learn whether different groups wanted to convert.
“We did a whole lot,” he said. “Like in ASI, we did the extensive survey outreach and we had the student vote, but I still feel like this is an evolving discussion. It would be quite insightful to hear from the chancellor what’s actually going on.”
The self-described “genuine” representative said members on the Board of Directors look to him as someone who knows how to lead. He said he helps younger members write resolutions, and prides himself on never failing to fulfill a promise.
“Back in the day, a handshake was all you needed,” Honeycutt said. “I’m a handshake kind of guy. If I shake your hand saying this is what I’m going to do, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Honeycutt said he feels a “responsibility” to run for president and bring his Board of Directors experience to a higher position.
Agribusiness junior Jason Colombini takes with him into the campaign a long Cal Poly family tradition, as well as his own experience: from greek life to ASI to University Housing.
Colombini’s father served on the student senate when he was at Cal Poly, and his grandfather was a resident adviser and advertising manager for Mustang Daily.
“Whenever a Colombini comes here, we do something to make Cal Poly a better place for present students and future students,” Colombini said. “The ultimate way I can do that is through ASI president, and I’ve been building up to it since Wednesday of WoW Week my freshman year.”
Similar to Honeycutt, Colombini said student government needs to improve its student outreach. He believes his current position as Interfraternity Council president uniquely prepared him for this.
Colombini said he’s helped improve relations in the greek community, for example, by sending a newsletter every other week to on-campus fraternities. He plans to do something similar as ASI president.
“If you’re interested in it (the newsletter), you’ll read it, and if not you’ll just delete the email,” Colombini said. “ASI is very transparent. In fact, it’s extremely transparent. But the disconnect is sometimes between what the Board of Directors is doing — what ASI student government is doing — and what general students know.”
Colombini isn’t worried his history of high-visibility leadership on campus — including being Sierra Madre’s hall council president two years ago and an ASI Board of Directors representative the year after — will hinder him from connecting with average students.
He added that he lives near Campus Bottle Shoppe, a liquor store close to Cal Poly frequented by students, and is “out there” seeing people walk by on the weekends. In contrast, he said he was a shy freshman who spent his Week of Welcome in the residence halls.
Colombini also said he pays for “every dime” of his college education — a fact he was quick to point out at a campaign speech this past week.
“When ASI is talking about these issues, I understand if you’re budgeting for next quarter, next year: how you’re going to pay for your education,” Colombini told the American Medical Student Association during its meeting Friday. “So I understand the magnitude of these issues.”
Entering the election as a current ASI officer and future Cal Poly graduate student, sociology senior Haley Houle is confident she can use her “relatability” to connect with voters.
“In order to represent and set aside my personal opinion, I’ve got to be able to relate to my constituents,” she said. “I’ve got to know, ‘What does it feel like to be a student in the Pride Center?’ That all starts with those conversations. That all starts with those relationships.”
Houle is the first student since 2009 running with plans to serve as a graduate student. She said it is not just the fact she has more experience than other candidates that gives her an advantage, but rather what she has done during her four years at Cal Poly.
“I’ve been able to meet administrators; I’ve been able to build relationships,” she said. “And having been around the table for the past two years, I think it’s important to have consistency … it would be great to have the same person around the table who maybe knows the conversation that went on last year.”
Houle’s ASI involvement began when she lost her race for the Board of Directors two years ago and instead claimed a seat on the University Union Advisory Board. She now chairs the board, which oversees ASI facilities such as the union and Recreation Center.
Though it is not in her responsibilities this year, she emphasized ASI needs to communicate more about allocation of the Student Success Fee, a student-approved fee reexamined each year and spent based on campus need. University Vice President of Finance Larry Kelley and Morrow completed this year’s allocation nearly two months ago, but the plan has not been effectively communicated to students, Houle said.
“There’s been a lot of things that came up this year, but I think as ASI president that’s something students should be constantly informed on,” she said. “Not that it wasn’t the most important issue, but there were other things that were urgent at that very moment.”
As University Union Advisory Board chair, Houle works closely with Morrow and was a supporter of her campaign one year ago — as of Sunday afternoon, the two are still together in both of their Facebook profile pictures. Though this year’s presidential race has four times as many candidates as Morrow’s, Houle said she’s excited for the challenge.
“It forces every candidate to really see why they’re different,” she said. “And I hope that every candidate will come out as themselves with a very authentic platform. Because I know all the candidates, and we’re all very different.”